"These are urgent and fiercely incorruptible lyrics where the unsettlingly oblique and surreal is juxtaposed against moments of lucid and visceral anguish: “We had married ourselves to a trance.” And “When they came for him full-dressed / and somber, they lifted a body made lighter / by suffering, laid it into the rubber bag / then zipped it to the top of his head.” Who writes with this kind of prescient confidence and startling lyricism besides Joan Houlihan? Emily Dickinson, Ludwig Wittgenstein, and Harryette Mullen come to mind."
“COME TO THE WAIT and the sea/flexes sleek in the sun,” Joan Houlihan tells us, and we sense the subtle disruption of our expectations of normalcy. We've entered an alternative sense of time, one lived daily by those facing an encroaching death, and we find ourselves intuitively responding to how the coming of a death offers this constancy: all will become foreign, all hopes and self-protective devices will be violated.”
"I love this book’s “snow falling / soft on the cut of living,” its magnificent force–epic in scope, lyric in texture. Here is a poet who creates not just her own voice and narrative–but her own language, animating it with a passion rare among her contemporaries. This book is a single poem, a sequence, a lyric breath. It is a field where ”under the bode of sky / old-eyed horses stood.” Meet its hero, who is magical, and yet so like us. What does this Ay want, you will ask? “Ay want what is not Ay–” Like all of us, one could add. And, in this is its author’s wisdom, admitting: “and blind / from shoulder to pit to eye / Ay am hollow and lit by a hunger.” To say that Houlihan is a unique voice in American poetry is an understatement. The work is breathtakingly inventive and yet deeply humane. In the time when so many poets create linguistic fireworks that possess little, if any, emotive depth, Houlihan gives us a poetry of passion and lyric attentiveness that is rich in its textures, lyric tonalities, and rhythmic, memorable speech. It is a narrative and song at once; it is talismanic."
Massachusetts Center for the Book Must-Read of 2009
"The Us is like nothing I have ever read or seen. I thought it impossible to invent anything in poetry. But that is the very thing Joan Houlihan has done. These poems are just extraordinary: wildly hewn, classically construed and skewed by an imagined lexicon, but one which, miraculously, works in Plain English. In a voice that is elemental, Ancient, animistic, pre-lingual even, the speaker manages, with nothing short of magic, to communicate with us, in a language both syntactically inventive and radically simple, about human truths that matter for all time."
Winner of the 2005 Green Rose Prize in Poetry
“Joan Houlihan’s images and figures are lapidary, her diction alert and startling, her lines chiseled, their sounds echoing back and forth, and yet for all the exquisite craft in these poems, there is something terrible and wild underneath their surfaces . . . The Mending Worm gives us poems that in their art and authenticity render whole that which has been shattered. Read them and you will see.”
Poems & Essays
Expanded Edition 2009
“Joan Houlihan’s rich, dense poems . . . have a rare music of language and imagery, and a striking sense of necessity and controlled passion . . . like fables we’d forgotten having read, but find ourselves living out nonetheless.”
“. . . a rage that refuses to settle for stunned silence but has been honed to a fierce clarity and . . . a new kind of tenderness, earned and believable.”
— Franz Wright