Jesse’s new Collection MERCIFUL DAYS is Available for Purchase!


You can now order MERCIFUL DAYS, Jesse’s new collection of poetry, from Mercer University Press. The official release date is October 1st, 2020, but it is available for pre-order now through several platforms.

Purchase Options:
Mercer University Press
Bookshop Website

MERCIFUL DAYS is the fourth collection of poems by East Tennessee poet Jesse Graves, recipient of the James Still Award for Writing about the Appalachia from the Fellowship of Southern Writers. In a language that is both plainspoken and lyrical, Graves examines the connections that hold people together across generations and against the breaches of time and distance. The landscapes of his native region possess a mythic beauty and Graves writes of the animating force it can become in a poet’s imagination. He closely observes animals and plants, the circling of hawks, and the curling of wild ginger leaves, as well as less palpable phenomena such as how wind stirs the surface of still water.

MERCIFUL DAYS is a book of elegies and celebrations. Graves’s poems are haunted by the lost futures of lives cut short, and by speculative narrations of omens and portents, witches and spirits seen only in reflection. For all the darkness visible in the world, Graves elevates the great joy of feeding birds, walking in the woods, and sharing a life, sometimes only in memory, with the people we love. Those who have passed on are remembered here and their stories become a source of light. The new work in MERCIFUL DAYS will remind readers why Ron Rash has said, “These poems have the music, wisdom, and singular voice of a talent fully realized, and make abundantly clear that Jesse Graves is one of America’s finest young poets.”



Jesse Graves is compiling and editing the poetry of the late Tennessee writer James Agee as part of a new multi-volume work, assisted by his research assistant Jonathan Hill. This project is in collaboration with Dr. Michael Lofaro of UT: Knoxville.

This new Collected Poems of James Agee will replace previous versions and contain dozens of pages of previously unpublished material. It will be one of several volumes in the ongoing series, The Collected Works of James Agee, published by the University of Tennessee Press.

To read the full article with details on this new project, please click here.

Johnson City Public Library to Host Event with Jesse and Rita Quillen

The Johnson City Public Library will host a Zoom event with Jesse and Rita Quillen on Tuesday, October 6th at 8:00 PM.

From their website:

“Tune in to listen to two talented local poets discuss poetry as they interview each other and treat viewers to a reading from their new books. Merciful Days: Poems by Jesse Graves, ETSU English professor and Poet-in-Residence, will be released October 1. Some Notes You Hold: New and Selected Poems by Rita Quillen, author and poet, will be available October 22.”

Please find the event page here on the Johnson City Public Library’s website.

Please find the event page here on the Johnson City Public Library’s Facebook.

Union Ave Books Welcomes Jesse Graves and Darius Stewart in a Zoom Event

Union Ave Books is putting on a free Zoom event that features Jesse, who will present his new book of poems, Merciful Days, and Darius Stewart, who will also give a reading at the same event. From Union Ave Books’ press release:

“Union Ave Books welcomes Jesse Graves to present his new book of poetry MERCIFUL DAYS. Jesse will be joined in conversation and for a reading by Darius Stewart, Knoxville Native and Visiting Writer in Nonfiction at the University of Iowa. This free virtual event takes place on October 18th @ 2pm (Eastern) on Zoom, send an RSVP to to attend. Please include the the title of the book MERCIFUL DAYS in the subject line. We will send the zoom link the day of the event.”

Please see Union Ave Books’ full press release here for more information.

Jesse is Featured in Cawood’s Article: “Four Contemporary Southern Poems For People Who ‘Don’t Like’ Poetry”

Shuly Cawood featured Jesse’s poem “Plaintive Lives” in her recent article “Four Contemporary Southern Poems For People Who ‘Don’t Like’ Poetry”, where she says:

“I grew up in a small town in Ohio — a town I loved — from kindergarten through high school, but as tan adult, I moved to a number of new places and new states, but always I returned to my hometown in between . . . Jesse Graves’ poem, ‘Plaintive Lives,’ reminds me of that time.”

Find Shuly Cawood’s full article here.

Jesse Guest Lectures at Cumberland University’s Creative Writing Conference

“Cumberland University’s new Creative and Imaginative Writing program is hosting its first Creative Writing Conference, titled “Find Your Place,” on Oct. 8-10, 2019 on CU’s campus. The conference will be centered around written works where the setting and place are essential to the theme.

The conference will feature two guest lecturers, writer Jonathan Escoffery and poet Jesse Graves, who will both teach a writing workshop and perform readings of their work during the three-day conference.”

Find the full press release article from Cumberland University here.

Emily Choate Writes Review About SPECTER MOUNTAIN

“For poetry that explores the Appalachian landscape and perspective, Graves and Wright make something of a dream team. Writer-in-residence at East Tennessee State University in Johnson City, Graves has written with distinction about Appalachian life, most recently in his stellar 2014 collection, Basin Ghosts. Wright, a former writer-in-residence at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, has also explored this terrain in his own collections, most recently in 2015’s Tree Heresies. To see these poets merge their talents in service of the Appalachian lineage is a particular thrill.”

Find Emily Choate’s full review here.

Creative Writing Festival at ETSU This Week; Jesse to Interview Joy Harjo

East Tennessee State University is hosting its third annual Creative Writing Festival this week, organized by Jesse Graves and ETSU’s Creative Writing Initiative! The events span April 10th and 11th, with everything from poetry and prose readings to creative writing workshops for students and the public alike to attend. Events will be held at the Reece Museum and the Martha Street Culp Auditorium on the main campus in Johnson City. Both days and all events are FREE and OPEN to the public!

We will be graced with the presence of several extremely talented authors, including Courtney Stevens (author of works such as Dress Code for Small Towns, Faking Normal, and others), the award-winning Mark Powell (author of Small Treasons and others), and the delightful poet and award-winning Bianca Lynne Spriggs (author of Call Her by Her Name and others, co-editor of the forthcoming Black Bone: 25 Years of Affrilachian Poets).

The guest of honor is the multi-talented Joy Harjo: member of the Mvskoke Nation, author of memoir Crazy Brave, poet-author of collections such as How We Became Human, musician of five albums, and more. She will be giving ETSU’s annual Jack Higgs Reading. Jesse Graves will be conducting an interview with Joy Harjo on April 11th from 4PM to 5PM in the Reece Museum.

We will attach the schedule down below for both days, as well as the author biography page from the ETSU flyer so those interested can all read a little more about our guests. For directions and more information, please visit the festival’s website by clicking here.

Jesse to Lead Narrative Poetry Workshop: March 17th

This Saturday, Jesse Graves will lead a narrative poetry workshop, sponsored by the Knoxville Writers Guild. The workshop will be held on March 17th at Central United Methodist Church, 10:00 am – noon, where Jesse will lead area writers through a workshop in contemporary narrative poetry.  His workshop will include discussions and applications of the narrative elements and devices found in these works.

To read the Knoxville Writers Guild’s exclusive interview with Jesse, please click here.