Philadelphia Poet Louis McKee Has Died

Louis Mckee, a fixture in the Philadelphia poetry scene, passed away Monday November 20th. Coincidentally that same day I had sent him an email about a poem of his published in Rattle in 2001.

I only personally knew him through correspondence, letters and emails, and an article he generously wrote for me, but I knew him much better I think through his poetry. The December 3rd launch reading for the next issue of the Schuylkill Valley Journal will be dedicated to him. It will take place at the Manayunk Art Center. That issue also includes three of his poems.

That poem from Rattle seems appropriate to me now, so I’ll post it here:

A Beautiful Day in September

Today I stood in my back yard

leaning on the cold wrought iron grate

and realized, watching the blue

skies, the slow white clouds

moving behind the old church spire,

that this was a beautiful day,

one that I should remember,

and it made me smile to know

that I could know such things,

and sad, too, to know that

I would know so few more.

I wish I had paid more attention

when I was young; that I had

looked up more, instead of straight on.

Two children bounce a ball

back and forth, dance

to a familiar song on their radio.

The woman next door kneels

in her small victory garden

gathering last tomatoes,

and peppers, too, it looks like.

A pretty young woman waits

on the corner for a bus

and a mischievous breeze

sweeps her long chestnut hair

away from her settling hand,

away from her cigarette;

she moves in her own sweet

dance, reaching wonderfully

to hold it all together.

That’s all I’m trying to do.

I love the combination of gratitude with regret and awe in this poem, characteristics which surface frequently in his work.

Also, here’s a link to an interview with Lou on the Mad Poet’s Blog.

His 1987 collection No Matter, was just released by Seven Kitchens Press yesterday. You can find it here. We all wish he was around to enjoy the new publication.

Below is an announcement sent from Eileen D’Angelo of the Mad Poets Society:

Dear Friends,

With a sad and heavy heart, I am writing to let you know that our friend and Philadelphia poet, Louis McKee, died yesterday, November 21st.

A dear friend of so many of us on the Philadelphia poetry scene, Lou was most definitely one of its greatest voices. His passing is a great personal loss, as I know it is a great loss to us all. It is an understatement to say that he will be missed by many.

Plans for a memorial service are underway.

Sincerely, Eileen

Here’s a fine remembrance article on McKee written by poet  Fox Chase poet G.E. Reutter.

Louis McKee (born July 31, 1951, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania) has been a fixture of the Philadelphia poetry scene since the early 70s. He is the author of Schuylkill County (Wampeter, 1982), The True Speed of Things (Slash & Burn, 1984), and fourteen other collections. More recently, he has published River Architecture: Poems from Here & There 1973-1993 (Cynic, 1999), Loose Change (Marsh River Editions, 2001), and a volume in the Pudding House Greatest Hits series. Gerald Stern has called his work “heart-breaking” and “necessary,” while William Stafford has written, “Louis McKee makes me think of how much fun it was to put your hand out a car window and make the air carry you into quick adventures and curlicues. He is so adept at turning all kinds of sudden glimpses into good patterns.” Naomi Shihab Nye says, “Louis McKee is one of the truest hearts and voices in poetry we will ever be lucky to know.”

Near Occasions of Sin, a collection issued in 2006 by Cynic Press, has been praised by Brendan Kennelly: “I really admire, and like, deeply, Louis McKee’s poems. They have two qualities I love – clarity and candour. And they often tell stories even as they evoke mysteries of being. And they engage a great deal with people. “The Soldier,” for example, is stunning for its pure drama. Then, he is a moving, complex love-poet, at once passionate and reserved. McKee’s poems are like flashes of spirit rooted in the body. He never hides behind, or in, obscurity. Near Occasions of Sin is utterly unpretentious because his genius (I think he has that) is so real; “I am content with this,” he says at the end of “Failed Haiku,” and this readiness to be himself, in all his complexity and simplicity, is, I think, the basis of the appeal of this most unusual and attractive book. Sometimes, McKee talks to his reader and it is like talking to a next-door neighbor (that’s what I mean by candour in these poems). Also, they sound like songs at times-winged, humane, vulnerable.”

Philip Dacey, writing about McKee’s poetry in Schuylkill Valley Journal (#24, spring, 2007) says, “It is the essence of McKee’s work to be rich in artifice and craftsmanship and informed poetic strategies while at the same time consistently brave in its presentation of two confrontations: a person’s with himself and that person’s with the world outside himself. To read McKee is to witness drama and struggle; if the art is hard-won, the human victories are, too.”

Warren Woessner, in the American Book Review (Jan/Feb 2007, Vol 28, No. 2), writes that McKee’s poems have a “surprising honesty…. In this era of superconfessional hubris, we are told that no topic is off-limits, but, if this is so, why are so many of these poems startling? Picasso said, “art is not truth,” and I know that to be true, but it is important to the force of these poems that I can believe that the poet is giving us his stories straight up.”

McKee was a longtime editor of the Painted Bride Quarterly. During his tenure, he edited three special issues, celebrating the work of Etheridge Knight and John Logan, as well as a retrospective, 20th-anniversary volume of the PBQ. He currently operates Banshee Press and edited the magazine One Trick Pony until its demise in 2007.

Louis McKee[edit] Bibliography

Schuylkill County (Wampeter Press, Green Harbor, MA 1982)[1]

The True Speed of Things (Slash & Burn Press, Philadelphia, PA 1984) (Reprinted: Nightshade Press, Troy, ME 1986)[1]

Safe Water (Slash & Burn Press, Philadelphia, PA 1986)

No Matter (Pig In a Poke Press, Pittsburgh, PA 1987)

Oranges (M.A.F. Press, Portlandville, NY 1989)

Angelus -a broadside issue (Lilliput Review, Pittsburgh, PA 1990)

Three Poems -a chapbook (Verse Press, Narberth, PA 1993)

Last Seen -a pamphlet (Red Pagoda Press, Reading, PA 1999)

River Architecture: Poems From Here & There: A Selected Poems 1973-1993 (Cynic Press, Philadelphia, PA 1999)[1]

Right as Rain (Nova House Press, Rosemont, PA 2000)

Loose Change (Marsh River Editions, Marshfield, WI 2001)[1]

Greatest Hits 1971-2001 (Pudding House Press, Johnstown, OH 2002)

Near Occasions of Sin (Cynic Press, Philadelphia, PA 2006)[1]

Marginalia (Translations from the Old Irish) (Adastra Press, Easthampton, MA 2008)

Still Life (Foothills, Kanona, NY, 2008)

Jamming (The League of Laboring Poets, San Clemente, CA, 2008)

[edit] As editor

Etheridge Knight: A Celebration (A special issue of the Painted Bride Quarterly-PBQ, Philadelphia, PA 1988)

John Logan (A special issue of the Painted Bride Quarterly-PBQ, Philadelphia, PA 1990)

PBQ: A Poetry Retrospective 1973-1993 (A special issue of the Painted Bride Quarterly-PBQ, Philadelphia, PA 1993)

References

PA 1984) (Reprinted: Nightshade Press, Troy, ME 1986)[1]

Safe Water (Slash & Burn Press, Philadelphia, PA 1986)

No Matter (Pig In a Poke Press, Pittsburgh, PA 1987)

Oranges (M.A.F. Press, Portlandville, NY 1989)

Angelus -a broadside issue (Lilliput Review, Pittsburgh, PA 1990)

Three Poems -a chapbook (Verse Press, Narberth, PA 1993)

Last Seen -a pamphlet (Red Pagoda Press, Reading, PA 1999)

River Architecture: Poems From Here & There: A Selected Poems 1973-1993 (Cynic Press, Philadelphia, PA 1999)[1]

Right as Rain (Nova House Press, Rosemont, PA 2000)

Loose Change (Marsh River Editions, Marshfield, WI 2001)[1]

Greatest Hits 1971-2001 (Pudding House Press, Johnstown, OH 2002)

Near Occasions of Sin (Cynic Press, Philadelphia, PA 2006)[1]

Marginalia (Translations from the Old Irish) (Adastra Press, Easthampton, MA 2008)

Still Life (Foothills, Kanona, NY, 2008)

Jamming (The League of Laboring Poets, San Clemente, CA, 2008)

As editor

Etheridge Knight: A Celebration (A special issue of the Painted Bride Quarterly-PBQ, Philadelphia, PA 1988)

John Logan (A special issue of the Painted Bride Quarterly-PBQ, Philadelphia, PA 1990)

PBQ: A Poetry Retrospective 1973-1993 (A special issue of the Painted Bride Quarterly-PBQ, Philadelphia, PA 1993)

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6 thoughts on “Philadelphia Poet Louis McKee Has Died

  1. I was a student of Lou McKee’s at Father Judge high school during the early 90’s. It is with great sadness I heard of his passing today. He was a great teacher, not just about poetry or English, but about life. Everyone that passed through his classroom, be it the nerd, jock, or screw up, definitely left with a lesson about life. He made us better people, more prepared for the real world. My regret is that I never got to visit or speak with him again after graduating. That is on me, another life lesson taught to me by Lou even in his death.

    He will be greatly missed. Jason Wasnick ~ Class od 92

  2. Rest in Peace Mr. McKee. I also was a student of Mr. McKee’s at Father Judge. I will never forget the stories you told us. Whether true or false they always made you think about life and how to be a better person. I will never forget you as a homeroom teacher and English teacher…For people that didn’t know, Mr. McKee was a autograph collector which was fun for his senior class who he made us write letter to famous actors, celebrities, etc….Never Forgotten……Nick

  3. Pingback: RIP LOUIS MCKEE « fox chase reading series

  4. Sorry to hear about this–Lou was a genuinely good guy–generous and warm-hearted–I read with him a few times in the 80s and 90s, and he was kind enough to be receptive to my early work for PBQ–Gary Fincke

  5. I met Lou in a Naomi Nye workshop in the mid-80s and was lucky to work with him when he was editing PBQ. He was always supportive of my work and I will always cherish the Rolling Rocks on the way back from staff meetings. Safe travels Lou.
    Jerry Hagins

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