"McCarthy's book of Midwestern threnodies begins in image and ends in solemnity . . . McCarthy's poems are profluent stories―a joy to marvel at this skill, impressive considering the book's bleak landscape."The Millions

“McCarthy has whittled out a sense of freedom from the heartache of the past, and the reader is left with a remarkable vision.”Booklist

“In unshowy, plaintive, quietly delivered language that should not be mistaken for affectless—and that can be stabbed through with surprisingly piercing metaphor—McCarthy vivifies a place and hard way of life too little visited.” —Library Journal

“McCarthy resets the standard for courage, and as long as we have writers of such bravery that are burning to tell their story, literature is in a good place. To name cruelty is still the last outpost of language, and to press lyricism from misery is a mystical experience — maybe even a holy one.” —Washington Independent Review of Books

“Scared Violent Like Horses is a gorgeous lyrical and focused meditation. It reexamines and confronts the past violence of home….McCarthy does this, and more, he asks readers not only to confront the past’s violence, but, more importantly, he provides a model for healing and, if possible, praise for what has happened, for where we’re from, and for where we’ve ended up.”
—The Arkansas International

It’s the people [of the Midwest] the speaker is really writing about―the speaker’s connection and disconnection with those who populate the landscape and the feeling of being different or not fully belonging. Ultimately, what the reader is left with is a stunning overlap of lost boy and lost landscape glimpsed through the lens of a gifted poet’s magical linguistic and storytelling abilities.”―Victoria Chang

“Scared Violent Like Horses is a book that grabs the reader with its insistent lyric beauty. It’s a book where its speaker is haunted by the empty violence and despair of a Midwestern landscape. John McCarthy’s poems have had their hold on me for a long time, and I defy anyone who reads this book not to walk away shaken, stirred, and ultimately, utterly changed.” ―Allison Joseph

“Throbbing with the ‘quiet ache’ of the flown-over, John McCarthy’s extraordinary perception and lingual deftness unveil the grit and humble grandeur of Springfield’s north end. Rural Illinois’s emotional brutality is rendered raw as we see into and through a young man reaching beyond the debris of a violent and damaged lineage, in search of a gentler, less destructive self.”―Matt Rasmussen

“In this devastating, gorgeous collection, John McCarthy opens up ‘[t]he hurt and mangled parts of us,’ the places in us where we are ‘hollering fervent and raw,’ to explore the pain of abandonment and the purity of that loneliness, so that we might understand how trauma breeds desolation. ‘How could we not / break the mirror we look at in the morning?’ McCarthy is a master of transforming his world into every kind.”―Sara Eliza Johnson


“A love letter to the Midwest, John McCarthy . . . paints a familiar, blue-collar picture of the Midwest but with a dose of surrealism that enlivens the region and gives it dynamic force in his storytelling.” ―Chicago Review of Books

“The poems of Ghost Country are about desperate situations and places we know. Verbal fights in pick-up trucks, a high school homecoming, and an alcoholic preacher all populate this memorable book . . .To borrow some of the author's language, Ghost County throbs with anger. What these poems reveal is the beauty of those things we might find commonplace now. McCarthy shines a spotlight on the familiar and glossed over.” ―Curbside Books & Records

”In John McCarthy’s arresting debut, Ghost County, the middle of America reveals itself to be
a belly full of opportunities and frustrations. McCarthy’s sharp poems explore the people who stay in these Midwestern geographies where every house “hides / old trophies, missing years, and nameplates / in unfinished attics” and tired mothers ride Ferris wheels “with scrape-kneed kids / until the sun collapses / behind all the dust.” These poems work like a pensive map to
all of the secret and sometimes regrettable things that make us human: longing, bent expectations, tenacity, and long horizons on every side.” ―Adrian Matejka

“In these gritty poems, McCarthy exposes a grimmer reality tainted by drugs, alcohol, poverty, and violence. This is a hardscrabble life where time stretches past into the future, back into the past, and all seems predetermined to remain the same. McCarthy’s poems pay close attention to a darker middle life, and they do not flinch.” ―Sandy Longhorn

“In this stunning debut, John McCarthy illuminates this complexity and curiosity of life in so-called ‘flyover country.’ The poems in Ghost Country move fiercely between violence and love with equal measure and means. This is a book that never stops opening up.” ―Adam Clay

With imagery that forever questions the now, the details in these poems continually slide between the surreal and the real. The mesmerizing sequence of eighteen poems all titled “Pickup Truck” suggest that such language is necessary seeing as how “we are ghosts” and laughter evaporates “because it was real.”  Impassioned and insightful, this is a book that travels between those very real places not found on any map: memory, disappointment, and love. ―Charlotte Pence

“The way McCarthy imagines and executes these lyric Midwestern narratives renders the place both familiar and strange, humdrum and ethereal. McCarthy has the craft and vision of someone who’s been at this for a very long time.” ―Chad Simpson