Friday, May 04, 2018

The Hastings Room Reading Series Welcomes Joan Houlihan 7PM May 9, 2018

Joan Houlihan

The Hastings Room Reading Series Welcomes Joan Houlihan on May the 9th,  2018,

this coming Wednesday, 7pm at Christ Church ,O Garden Street--just outside of Harvard Square...


Our spring reader this year is Joan Houlihan. Joan’s previously released poetry, two narrative sequences, were forged in the deep past, out of the bubble of present times, in pre-historic hunter-gatherer days. The second book of the sequence, Ay, was published early in 2014. A motivation for the narrative’s setting in long-forgotten times stems from Houlihan’s concern for permanent human nature. Its central tragedy identifies with the story of Cain and Abel, and though of such a primitive region of our psyche, to this day it continues to be a major source of parental woe and daily news, not to mention Congressional gridlock.


Along with The Us and Ay, Joan Houlihan is the author of The Mending Worm, winner of the 2005 Green Rose Prize in poetry, and Handheld Executions, poems and essays 2006. She founded the Concord Poetry Center, and is the founder and director of the Colrain Poetry Manuscript Conferences. Joan serves on the faculty of Lesley University’s Low-Residency

MFA program.


The Us was named a 2009 must-read by the Massachusetts Center for the Book.


As a Freshman in college, I learned in an Introduction to American Literature course that one distinctive characteristic of our stories and poetry is “primitivism.” I only remembered that label recently as I pondered the unique language that Houlihan smithied for her narrative book-length poems, and which is carried forth in her new book, Shadow-feast, released by Four Way Books. Houlihan’s language is unusual in its conscious preference away from Latinate or Scholarly English—mirroring the prehistoric or a-temporal  subject of those first two books. Oddly she achieves this American primitivism through language by harkening back to a use of English in poetry before America was even founded, in the alliterative diction of Old English poetry where the formal omission of articles (“a” and “the”) draws weight and blood back into nouns. It is a language keen in elemental perception of basic phenomena, seasons, plants, animals and birds, night and day, sea and land, stripped almost entirely of concept and abstraction. We see these signatures in the new book, Shadow-feast:


p. 3: SLEPT OUT to sea and sailing in a wave

            uncertain what was in the hold   then comes from years: a comb…


p. 6:                 She sat him up to sip / a bowl of broth


p.14: pulley-roped palliatives


p. 31 Lean me on you, I am rid of wish


p. 32 I am mute, but thought-loud.

I have recently noted in an article that the new book is presented in three dramatic parts, two monologues, Hers, His, and a sort of post script, Theirs. It’s a work of expressions from imagination—biographically referential howsoever. This organization and representation lend remove to the poems, allow us to read them as we might view or read a play. It also sets the book in perspective as literary genre, with Rilke’s wonderful poem on assisting the dying “Washing the Corpse,” or Faulkner’s streaming dramatic novel As I Lay Dying.


It is interesting to note that the Personae of Shadow-feast are possessive pronouns: Hers, His, Theirs. This links Shadow-feast with Houlihan’s two previous book-length poems, Ay (“I”) and The Us, with their titles evocative of nominal pronouns.


As is the case with every Hastings Room reading, this coming Wednesday’s will be the best one yet. Come join us.



The Hastings Room Reading series was founded in 2014 by Steven Brown and Michael Steffen.

It holds place thanks to the space allowed to us by First Church Congregationalist and is free, accepting donations which go to the church. We want to acknowledge the generosity of help, over these past four years, given by Irene Koronos, Dan Wuenschel, Elizabeth Oehlkers Wright, Kevin Cutrer, and many others, including our readers.

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