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ISBN: 978-1-62557-956-0
Reviews & Media Poem in VERSE DAILY
Categories Poetry

Jersey Mercy

Publication Date: April 2016


Moon Croon in Eatontown

Mercy and Fred stand spitting seeds outside the porta potty
between the construction site and convenience store;
Rick is inside puking. He’s got too much something and not
enough something else-food; restraint; who knows?
Mercy’s social is tattooed across her neck. In case they find
my body, she told her mother. Now, she sings “Love Me
Tender.” Fred is listening past her voice for the next train
to the City, the one so many boys have been jumping in
front of. How many in this handful of years? Some fathers,
too, whose shame has grown on the tracks, and Fred
thinks the whole town is down and afraid. He wants
out. The nighttime whistle seems low and sad; for some
it rings hope, others anger. The train comes this way, goes
that, but everyone ends up in the same place-fly away
or lay down flat-someone singing old Elvis tunelessly
waiting out the night in a 7-Eleven parking lot.


Set along the Jersey shore, before and after Hurricane Sandy, these narratives vividly capture the lives and speech of Jersey denizens like Mercy, a young waitresses, and Tino, a boardwalk musician. Piers, racetracks, and bars endure natural disasters. Mercy, too, endures. McCullough’s craft is striking. Her portraits are empathic, alive. The lines are drenched with music. Words surge, crash precisely on the page. Jersey Mercy is a gorgeous interrogation of language and landscape.

-Eduardo C. Corral

Jersey-with its rollicking characters, wide-aloud language and mystifying local rituals-is a notoriously difficult smidgen of culture to capture. Laura McCullough’s chronicle of Mercy and her riotous adventures nails down Jersey’s elusive spirit once and for all. These poems are hilarious, poignant, and invaluable for the glimpse they give us of the hangouts and humanity in the state America simply couldn’t live without.

-Patricia Smith

Boardwalk country, Bruce country, country of racetrack and abandoned carousel-with rhythmic pizzazz, McCullough spins the salt air of the Jersey Shore into the poems of Jersey Mercy. They shake and rattle and plunge forward, they pump fists and sweat, yet underneath all their raucous fluency they yearn and love and hurt so good like the best three-minute radio songs. Here’s another American kid, Mercy, doing the best she can. Turning these pages is like putting dime after dime into the jukebox.

-Michael Waters

About the Author

© Emory Broek

Laura McCullough

Laura McCullough’s newest book of poems is Women & Other Hostages (Black Lawrence Press, 2021). Her previous books from Black Lawrence Press are Jersey MercyRigger Death & Hoist Another, and Speech Acts. Her other books include The Wild Night Dress, selected by Billy Collins for the Miller Williams Poetry Series (University of Arkansas Press, 2017), Panic (winner of the Kinereth Kensler Award, Alice James Books, 2009), and What Men Want (XOXOX Press). She is the editor of two anthologies, A Sense of Regard: Essays on Poetry and Race (University of Georgia Press) and The Room and the World: Essays on Stephen Dunn (Syracuse University Press). Her work has appeared in Best American Poetry, Georgia Review, American Poetry Review, The Writer’s Chronicle, Guernica, The Southern Review, Gulf Coast, Pank, Hotel America, Prairie Schooner, and many other journals and magazines. She has had scholarships or fellowships to the Bread Loaf Writers Conference, the Nebraska Summer Writers Conference, Sewanee Writers Conference, the Vermont Studio Center, the Virginia Center for the Arts, and has been a Dodge Poetry Festival poet, a Florida Writers Circuit poet, and a Decatur Book Festival poet. She has had three NJ State Arts Council Fellowships, two in poetry and one in prose. She received her MFA from Goddard College and teaches full time at Brookdale Community College in NJ where she founded the Creative Writing Program and is on the faculty of the Sierra Nevada low-res MFA and has taught for Ramapo College and Stockton University. Visit her at www.lauramccullough.org

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