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Killing the Murnion Dogs

Publication Date: November 2011


Killing the Murnion Dogs, Joe Wilkins’s first full-length collection, is a series of elegies. Herein we grieve years and fathers, highways and memories, rivers, shotgun shacks, and myths. These poems sing us down the two-lane highways and backroads of the vast American interior, from the hard-luck plains of eastern Montana to the cypress swamps of the Mississippi Delta, yet Killing the Murnion Dogs refuses the easy answers of nostalgia or cynicism. Rather, these poems insist that we “remember the good pain” that despite it all “this dust here is home.” And so we search-always, insistently-for a place to abide inside the loss. “It is time to grieve” Wilkins tells us, “to believe in the world again.”


“Joe Wilkins has a big, true, highway-running American voice. He remains one of my favorite young poets working today. When you see a new book of his, you should celebrate. Like this one. Just buy it, put down the window, and let the music blow back your hair. It’s nothing but alive.”

-Luis Alberto Urrea

These poems examine what and how we perceive and remember, the source, substance, and journey of our time on this earth. My favorite poem in the collection may be “Outside a Liquor Store in South Memphis” which is lush, vivid, itchy and full of white space. I’m grateful for the pulse and heat of all of these poems, and to Joe Wilkins for providing the language, nerve, heart and invitation to go with him, from the opening rain spell to the last lines of the final poem, “Prayer”: Oh this dust/ here is the good north pasture and this dust here is home.”

-Rebecca Wee

Not many poets address the American “interior” with the skill and insight Joe Wilkins displays in Killing the Murnion Dogs. I mean interior in both senses: Wilkins does a wonderful job evoking hardscrabble landscapes of Montana buttes and Mississippi cotton fields, sunflowers and coyotes, okra casseroles and rust-gutted Chevies. But his deeper subject is the lives of the farmers and ranchers who inhabit that land, lives he illuminates with gritty authority and boundless compassion. This is a first book wise beyond its years.”

-Campbell McGrath

In Killing the Murnion Dogs, the old lonelinesses, bodied forth by whisky in jam jars and rotting porches, highways, wolves, the dream of escape, are reinhabited and updated by Joe Wilkins’ own urgent interrogations – most notably: where is home, and why is memory so heartbreakingly incomplete? Tending the spirits of Richard Hugo and James Wright, master chroniclers of sad towns and desperate cities, these patient, vulnerable, angry and unapologetically Romantic poems are helplessly tender toward ruin, and full of stubborn belief in the beauty that can be coaxed from desolation.”

-Lia Purpura

About the Author

Joe Wilkins

Joe Wilkins’s debut, Killing the Murnion Dogs, was published by Black Lawrence in 2011 and subsequently named a finalist for a number of national post-publication book awards, including the Paterson Poetry Prize and the High Plains Book Award. Wilkins’s other books include a memoir, The Mountain and the Fathers (Counterpoint 2012), winner of a 2014 GLCA New Writers Award—an honor that has previously recognized early works by the likes of Richard Ford, Louise Erdrich, and Alice Munro, among others—and another book of poems, Notes from the Journey Westward (White Pine 2012). He has recently published two chapbooks, one of essays, We Had to Go On Living(Red Bird Chapbooks 2014) and one of poetry, Leviathan (Iron Horse 2014); his fiction chapbook Far Enough: A Western in Fragments was published by Black Lawrence Press last year. A Pushcart Prize winner and National Magazine Award finalist, Wilkins has published poems, essays, and stories inThe Georgia Review, The Southern Review, The Missouri Review, The Sun, Orion, and Slate. Of Wilkins’s work, Deborah Kim, editor at the Indiana Review, writes, “The most striking component of it 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.” Wilkins lives with his wife, son, and daughter in McMinnville, Oregon, where he teaches writing at Linfield College. As the winner of the Boyden Wilderness Writing Residency from PEN Northwest, he and his family spent the summer and fall of 2015 living in a remote cabin along the Rogue River in southwest Oregon.

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