John Hennessy

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Selected Works

story at big bridge #16, fifteen year anniversary issue
"surfside rats"
Read poems from Bridge and Tunnel


"In his new collection, CONEY ISLAND PILGRIMS, John Hennessy does more than catalogue the things of this world; he sanctifies them: bruised strawberries, Kangols, an unleashed pit bull, Puccini's Suor Angelica, rainy afternoons, Big Bird. It's all here, reconstituted in language and forms that do more than lodge a mirror before our mind's eye. These poems are the gateway to a kingdom of rhythmic feeling, linguistic order, and imaginative explorations."—Major Jackson

photo by Anton Kisselgoff

"In energy-packed lines whose diction dovetails the formal and the colloquial, John Hennessy's Bridge and Tunnel is a genuinely original achievement. America has its bounty of New Jersey poets who have celebrated the common man — Walt Whitman, W.C. Williams, Robert Pinsky — and now, in this first book, we see a young poet bringing his own highly musical truth-telling, wonder, and humor to the unbeautiful industrial landscape, and the hard-luck characters, who haunted a boyhood along the Rahway River. Without an ounce of pretension — about either his working-class roots or the deftly turned poetry he makes of it — Hennessy revisits with increasing power the elemental components of his youth and home town. Most affecting are two monuments: the Merck chemical plant (whose 'single gleaming green' served as 'our Northern Lights') and the 'silver, flame-hipped towers' of the Exxon refinery. (Another factory-worshipping poet, W. H. Auden, would surely have loved all this.) Hennessy's witty mythologizing gift, too — which recasts friends and family in the role of Persephone, or Job--accords us not just delight but dignity: we come away seeing more clearly the confinements, and stubborn attachments, of our own daily lives."
--Mary Jo Salter, author of Open Shutters: Poems and editor of The Norton Anthology of Poetry


cover art by Mira Bartok


John Hennessy is the author of two poetry collections, Coney Island Pilgrims (new from Ashland Poetry Press) and Bridge and Tunnel (Turning Point Books/​Word Press 2007), and his work appears in many journals and anthologies, including Best American Poetry 2013, The Believer, The New Republic, Poetry, The Yale Review, New Letters, The Antioch Review, The Sewanee Review, Jacket (Australia), Salt (UK), Harvard Review, What's Your Exit? A Literary Detour Through New Jersey, Poetry Daily, and Best New Poets 2005.

Hennessy is a contributing editor to Fulcrum: an annual of poetry and aesthetics, and he is the poetry editor of The Common, a new print magazine based at Amherst College. In 2007-2008 he held the Resident Fellowship in Poetry at the Amy Clampitt House.

A New Jersey native, Hennessy went to Princeton University on a Cane scholarship and received graduate degrees from the Univerity of Texas at Austin and the University of Arkansas; he teaches at the University of Massachusetts and lives in Amherst.

"Like Paul Muldoon, like Harryette Mullen, John Hennessy inhabits a poetic universe all his own. Whether he is channeling the posthumous ruminations of Ophelia, grappling with his mother's bizarre cosmology, or explaining mortality to his young son, Hennessy's music recalls the wild delirium of a Klezmer band. This startling new voice is really a houseful of voices, sage and seductive, heartbreaking and hilarious by turns. Bridge and Tunnel is a book that never forgets the most important of Stevens' three dicta: 'It Must Give Pleasure.'" Daniel Hall, author of UNDER SLEEP