male The Poetry Center at Smith College

Poems by Joan Houlihan

Froze by winter blast

[THEN AY KNOW my horse]



Joan Houilihan is the author of four collections of poems, all of them visceral, musical, startling and tender—in both material and style—and each reaching deep into new territory. Her first book, Hand-Held Executions, published in 2003, was re-released in 2009 in an expanded version to include her provocative Boston Comment essays, and followed by The Mending Worm, winner of the Green Rose Award from New Issues Press in 2006.

Houlihan describes the space poets occupy as the revitalization of language and experience. Her own body of work manages at once to be deeply human and to push and boundaries of expression. A lowly pronoun gave rise to her third collection, The Us, a poetic sequence spoken in the collective voice of nomadic hunter-gatherers at the threshhold of language. It was was named a 2009 must-read by the MA Center for the Book. The Us is like nothing I have ever read or seen,” writes Lucie Brock-Broido. “These poems are just extraordinary: wildly hewn, classically construed and skewed by an imagined lexicon.” The book ends with its protagonist, Ay, recovering from a life-threatening wound. Tonight we celebrate the release of Ay, a sequel, “wherein Ay recovers his speech & mobility & is treated as a god.” When asked for a one- sentence book description, Houlihan put it this way: Trauma begets separation; separation begets self-knowledge; self-knowledge begets empathy; empathy begets mercy. Ilya Kaminsky praised the book’s “magnificent force,” calling it “epic in scope, lyric in texture.” In Fred Marchant’s words, “Joan’s US and this character Ay. . .”help us see and feel and know the landscape of loss within our own psyches, deep down, in the “primitive peoples” part of each of our beings.”

Born and raised in Massachusetts, Houlihan’s early interest in poetry was inspired by T.S. Eliot, Gerard Manley Hopkins, and her experience with parochial school. Growing up in an Irish Catholic household, her first exposure to the “sonic textures” of poetry came in the form of religious psalms and parables. After completing her Bachelor’s and Master’s Degrees at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, she worked as a technical writer, reporter, and editor, and went on to become a driving force in the poetry community. In addition to publishing in a wide array of journals, including Poetry, Boston Review, Harvard Review and Gulf Coast, she has served as a brilliant and courageous critic and editor at a series of online magazines, most recently as contributing critic for Contemporary Poetry Reivew and associate editor of Tupelo Quarterly. In 2004, she founded the Concord Poetry Center, a community center that offers readings, workshops, and seminars. She is also the founder and director of the Colrain Poetry Manuscript Conference, a one-of-a-kind model that provides poets with feedback from mentor poets and editors to help set their manuscripts on the path to publication. She has taught at Columbia University and Emerson College, and currently serves on the faculty of Lesley University’s Low-Residency MFA program in Cambridge, Massachusetts.






    Poetry Center Readings:

Spring 2014