Joe Wilkins (CNF, Fiction, Poetry) | McMinnville, OR
- Leviathan (Iron Horse Press, 2014). Poetry.
- We Had to Go On Living. (Red Bird Chapbooks, 2014). Essays.
Press & Reviews
“Full of imaginative novelty as well as reminders that miraculous secrets are hidden in the fabric of everyday life . . . these poems show us the truth and even the dignity of ordinary experience.”
“This gritty collection from Joe Wilkins showcases how the outdoors can be a classroom for all matters of the heart: it sneaks devastating truths and disjunctions into soil and shattered rivers, into places where ‘a vole snouts / through my throat, where a tree frog’s scream / fills my heart’s dark riffle.’ When We Were Birds doesn’t just contemplate all ruin and hard work, where ‘the backs of my hands / had lustered clear to burlap or dry river mud,’ but also masterfully showcases a magnificent spill and glide of beautiful language even if the speaker begs, ‘O god/of busted wishes/ leave me here a long time here/ in the stinking dark.’”
“The most striking component of [Wilkins’s work] is its awareness of the whole world. What is ordinary becomes transcendent. In places derelict and seemingly unexceptional, Wilkins compels us to recognize what is worth salvage, worth praise.”
Far Enough shows how a book can be woven out of shards that have been chiseled off the heartstone of the West and assembled in such a way as to make sense, to tell a story. It’s a postmodern western, but it’s a western nonetheless. While I read the book on a hot summer day, sitting in my hammock here in a village at the Appalachian edge of the Midwest, I started thinking of Mark Twain and Richard Brautigan, of Sherman Alexie and Louise Erdrich, of all those strong regional voices that capture the spirit of various frontiers. This is the spirit of Wilkins’s book. He brings to life through fragments a time and a place, a contemporary West in which mothers die not from bear attacks but from meth overdoses, a world in which the river runs dry every summer, possibly the action of an angry god, but more plausibly because of climate change. And it’s able to tell these stories through brief snippets, paragraphs, and one- to two-page pieces linked only by a shared vision of the world they create.
-Vivan Wagner, writing at Easy Street: A Magazine of Books and Culture
The Big Dry of eastern Montana makes for a subject of rich complexity. Joe Wilkins evokes place like Willa Cather. That is, place begins as a kind of raw, wide-open poetry. But Wilkins tells a different story. This is about the author’s search for a model of fatherhood, to fill spaces left empty by the death of his father. Wilkins strikes with staggering, melancholy, progressively self-reflective prose that, in part, inhabits the sparseness of the part of Montana where he was born and grew up. Yet his prose also pushes against what might be considered the standard fare of writing fixed in the American West. He addresses memory and the inability to remember in lyrical prose that is, at times, achingly beautiful yet never pretentious or sentimental and never cold. With exquisite control at both the structural and sentence level, he displays both a surety and openness to question, particularly with regard to class and masculinity without theorizing or naming them as such.
–Judges’ Citation for The Mountain and the Fathers, Winner of the 2014 GLCA New Writers Award in Nonfiction