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... how far, how small, how between
splendor and animal crawl we are.

People will remember us won't they?


--from It Isn't a Ghost if it Lives in Your  Chest


News & Events

In The Press
News and Events


Joan Houlihan is the author of six books of poetry. Her poems have been anthologized in The Iowa Anthology of New American Poetries (University of Iowa Press) and The Book of Irish-American Poetry-Eighteenth Century to Present (University of Notre Dame Press).  She has been a contributing critic for the Contemporary Poetry Review, associate editor for Tupelo Quarterly, and author of a series 

 of essays on contemporary American poetry archived online at teaching includes Columbia University, Smith College, and Emerson College. She currently teaches in the Lesley University Low-Residency MFA Program. She is also Professor of Practice at Clark University in Worcester, MA. Houlihan is founder and director of the Colrain Poetry Manuscript Conference.

In the Press

Beneath our lids, other eyes, says Houlihan in a stunning poetry array on the death of her beloved. The (Shadow-feast) sections are Hers, His, Theirs. But every poem is about a couple that cannot be separated, and yet they are. The speaker avoids the ordinary and with perfect craft and words that behave just right, she creates new forms for loss — and loss is gradual here allowing the poems to track demise in the richness of its grain. Grief is unbelievable yet Houlihan has to believe and makes us handle it the way she handled the lathe, page by page. Critics compare her to Emily Dickinson and I think I know why. They each distill language and feeling to a crystalline state that never tells a lie. Reading Houlihan reminds me of why I first loved poetry.


The searing impact of Joan Houlihan’s stark and tender collection, Shadow-feast, comes from a total rejection of sentimentality, while maintaining intimacy and emotion in her account of a terminal illness. From the first poem to the last, the reader struggles along with the speaker(s) to comprehend the reality of death, its turns and twists, the good days, the bad days, and the days that possess their own temporal logic and texture... Houlihan’s language is stripped of all connective tissue, leaving minimal punctuation and deliberate use of idiosyncratic spacing to convey meaning.


Eve F.W. Linn,
Poetry International

Time came in and stranded us here, writes Joan Houlihan in the third poem of her new book, Shadow-feast, after the Japanese Kage-zen, “a repast…offered to the spirit of the absent one loved.” The poems chronicle the mourner’s (Hers, section one) reflections of the dying and death of her husband; the empathetic raising of the husband’s replies (His, section two); and (Theirs, section three) a sequence driven by third-person narrative being resolved intermittently back into the voice of the mourning wife.


Michael Steffen,
Boston Small Press & Poetry Scene

Grace Caliveri,
Washington Independent Review 
of Books

Although The Us is mythological in its scope, it is lyric rather than epic in its approach, proceeding not with heroic pomp and encyclopedic comprehensiveness but instead with lyric delicacy and attention to carefully chosen particulars. 


Sawnie Morris,
Boston Review

Shadow-feast is a tour de force sheared of excess, breathtaking in its leaps, and thrilling in its sonic resonances.  Joan Houlihan touches uncannily on the hidden pulse of experiencing her husband’s death. The perspectives that form the three sections, Hers, His, Theirs, evidence Houlihan’s ability to discern the distance from and proximity of each to each.

The collection’s title comes from a Japanese ceremony, a daily offering of miniature, meticulous meals, prepared for the ghost of a loved one. These poems, likewise exquisitely arranged, are distinct unflinching devotions to the realities of what we rarely notice and never say.

Rebecca Kaiser Gibson, Los Angeles Review

In your and my English, yet as you’ve never encountered it before, Ay reads with the elements of great poetry, with an immediate simple if disconcerting charm haunted by profound resonance.

If this book sounds like nothing else you’ve read, it isn’t. The distinctiveness of The Us from the one-thousand or so single volumes of poetry published each year in the United States is remarkable...again and again the reader is struck with the question: who else could’ve written this? The answer of course is no one.

In The Mending Worm, Houlihan excels at capturing odd moments—”In a farther sky rain gathers,/The smell is nickel. I long to replenish, lean out like a dog, mouth sprung, tongue loose, lapping the mineral air, because I must”—but she doesn’t give us a whole world so much as a glance. And an intense, condensed, piercing, refreshingly off-kilter glance
it is.

Barbara Hoffert,
Library Journal

Michael Steffen,
Taos International Journal of Poetry & Art

Ay doesn’t feel like someone’s creation. It feels “received” as if the writer, as if Ay, were both vessels through which a coherent, unknown but deeply familiar, world has been poured. In its almost monosyllabic lack of modulating self-diminishment, this is the credo of integrity, of a wholeness that is evident at every level in this odd and magnificent work.

Brian Brodeur,
Quarterly West

Hand-held Executions gracefully navigates not only the border between form and free verse but the rarely charted waters between poetry and criticism.

Adam Dressler,
Parnassus: Poetry in Review

Rebecca Gibson,

Michael Steffen,
Boston Small Press & Poetry Scene

[In It Isn't a Ghost if it Lives in Your Chest], the childlike brilliance, reminding us of Cummings and Bishop, is woven as a recurrent theme throughout the book, notably in fairytale allusions and curious linguistic observations that bear the weight of earthiness and thing into word and syntax.

Once you know you will die, the sky flattens./
Stars poke their fingers through/
and point at you.


Houlihan’s It Isn’t A Ghost if It Lives In Your Chest presents a compelling, magical narrative (and magical in the way of dark forests and trees the crack in the distance) that claws the story out from the hiding place of memory to say, “I am happy where I am […] stepping between years, a mourner / making slow work of it” (“There is a meadow, afterward”).

It asks the reader to lean into this world where a mother is “axe and hammer” and a father looms so large that his shadow blocks the sun (“Education”.) The speaker herself is often portrayed as a neutral country — Switzerland — that oscillates between love and fear of the familiar trauma and wreckage. “I waited for hours playing dead,” the speaker confesses, “then used my fingers to dig my way out. / The dirt’s still under my nails” (“Trigger Warning.”) 

Amanda Auchter,
RHINO Poetry Reviews


Lesley University Reading Series

Sunday, June 23, 6:45pm
Marran Theater, 34 Mellen St, Cambridge, MA 02138

MCC Visiting Writers Series
Tuesday, February 27 • 11:00 a.m 
Middlesex Community College

33 Kearney Square 
Lowell, MA 01852

Academic Arts Center, Recital Hall



Thursday, November 16 7pm
with Aiden Rooney
Hasting Room Reading Series

First Church
11 Garden Street
Cambridge, MA 02138


Monday, May 1, 7:00pm
Author's Talk
Morrill Memorial Library
33 Walpole St, Norwood, MA 02062 
Registration here.



Sunday, July 23, 3pm
with Andrea Cohen
Longfellow House
105 Brattle Street
Cambridge, MA 02138




Monday, June 20, 2022 6:30pm
Lesley University
Evening Reading Series
Registration link:

[Houlihan Reading](

riday, October 1, 7pm

Four Way Books Launch

Norwich Bookstore
Registration link:

Monday, October 25, 7:15pm
Blacksmith House

Cambridge, MA
Registration link:

Sunday, November 7
The Loom Reading Series

New Hampshire
Registration link:

Sunday, November 21, 2pm

Brookline Poetry Series
Hunneman Hall, Brookline Village Library 361 Washington St. Brookline, MA 02445

Registration Link:



For any media inquiries, please contact Hannah Matheson, Publicist 

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