top of page
blue deer.jpg

... 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.


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

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

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

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.

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.

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.

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


2021 & 2022

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

[Houlihan Reading](

Friday, 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:


2018 & 2019

  • Friday, March 9, 2-3pm   
    AWP Book Signing for Shadow-feast
    Four Way Books #Booth #1632

    Tampa, FLA


  • Friday, March 9, 3pm   
    AWP Reading with Four Way Books authors
    Maggie Anderson, Panio Gianopoulos, Margaree Little,
    and Daniel Tobin
    Virginia Barber Middleton Stage,
    Sponsored by USC, Exhibit Hall,
    Tampa Convention Center, Third Floor 
    Tampa, FLA


  • Monday, March 19, 8pm
    Blacksmith House

    Reading with Wyn Cooper
    56 Brattle Street
    Cambridge, MA 02138

  • Tuesday, April 3, 7pm
    Reading with Martha Collins
    Newtonville Books
    10 Langley Rd
    Newton, MA 02459


  • Friday, April 6, 2-3pm
    Boston National Poetry Month Festival
    Reading with Charles Coe & George Kalogeris
    The Commonwealth Room
    Boston Public Library, Boston, MA


  • Wednesday, April 25, 7:30pm
    Reading with Fred Marchant
    The Gloucester Writers Center
    126 East Main Street, Gloucester MA. 01930


  • Sunday, May 6, 11:30-12:30
    Reading with Lesley MFA Poetry Faculty
    Hawthorne Hotel, Sophia Room
    Massachusetts Poetry Festival
    Salem, MA


  • Sunday, May 6, 1-2 p.m
    Reading with Martha Collins & Ellen Watson
    PEM Morse Auditorium
    Massachusetts Poetry Festival
    Salem, MA


  • Wednesday, May 9, 7pm
    Hastings Reading Room Series
    Christ Church Library 
    0 Garden Street, Cambridge MA


  • Thursday, June 7, 7pm
    Reading with Fred Marchant and Rusty Morrison
    SOMOS Literary Center
    108-B Civic Plaza Drive
    Taos, NM


  • Sunday, June 24, 7pm
    Lesley University, Marran Theater
    34 Mellen St
    Cambridge, Massachusetts 02138


  • Friday, September 7, 7pm
    Reading with Martha Collins
    The Word Barn
    66 Newfields Rd
    Exeter, NH 03833


  • Saturday, September 15, 1:30-2:45
    Panel on pronoun usage
    New Hampshire Literary Festival
    New England College
    98 Bridge Street
    Henniker, NH 03243


  • October 10, 7pm
    with Daniel Tobin
    Porter Square Books
    Porter Square, MA


  • Sunday, October 14, 4:00 pm           
    with Neal Shepard
    Brattleboro Literary Festival
    Brooks Memorial Library
    224 Main Street

    Downtown Brattleboro 
    Brattleboro, VT

  • Sunday, October 28, 3pm
    Four Way Books Reading 
    with Jennifer Franklin & Dan Tobin
    Suffolk University Poetry Center
    Suffolk University, Mildred F. Sawyer Library, 3rd Floor

    73 Tremont Street, Boston
    (Entrance around corner on Tremont Place)


  • Sunday, November 11, 5:30pm
    Inaugural LOOM Poetry Reading Series
    with Peter Covino
    St. Denis Catholic Church
    Harrisville, New Hampshire



  • Sunday, March 10, 3 pm
    Joan Houlihan and Frannie Lindsay
    Concord Poetry at the Library Series
    Sponsored by The Friends of the Library
    Concord Free Public Library
    129 Main St.
    Concord, MA


  • Tuesday, April 16, 7pm
    Joan Houlihan and Peter Covino
    The Center for Arts at the Armory
    191 Highland Ave #1c
    Somerville, MA


  • Tuesday, June 11, 7pm
    Kate Colby, Cynthia Cruz, Joan Houlihan and Daniel Tobin
    Grolier Poetry Book Shop
    6 Plympton St.
    Cambridge, MA

  • Wednesday, June 26, 7pm
    Joan Houlihan & Kevin Prufer

    Lesley University, Marran Theater
    34 Mellen St
    Cambridge, Massachusetts 02138

  • Saturday, September 14,  3pm
    New Hampshire Poetry Festival
    New England College
    Henniker, NH


  • Sunday, October 20, 2019, 2pm
    Joan Houlihan & Jay Feathersone
    Brookline Poetry Series
    Hunneman Hall, Brookline Village Library 
    361 Washington St. 
    Brookline, MA 02445


For any media inquiries, please contact Hannah Matheson, Publicist 

  • White Facebook Icon
  • White Twitter Icon
  • White Google+ Icon
  • White LinkedIn Icon
bottom of page