Photo by Meg Lukens
A powerful sequel to The Us, which ended with the son Ay wounded, rendered silent and immobile by a head injury. In Ay, the boy is propped up and worshiped, as others project a kind of divinity onto his stillness. While Ay recovers, in a series of lyrical monologues he discovers an individual self-awareness, separate from family and tribe.
“Musically rugged, riddled with insight, resonant, gripping, and chock-full of moments that startle with their vividness (‘What eats grass slow and bent- / necked, eyed from the side, is deer’) Ay deploys its fertile idiom not only for the pleasure of it, which is immeasurable, but as a medium through which to investigate the mechanics of subjectivity, grief, empathy, and forgiveness. The result is one of the most radically inventive and invigorating books of poetry I’ve read in years” — Timothy Donnelly
“In a time when so many poets create linguistic fireworks that possess little, if any, emotive depth, Houlihan gives us poetry of passion and lyric, attentiveness that is rich in its textures, tonalities, and rhythmic, memorable speech. Ay is a narrative and song at once: it is talismanic.”
— Ilya Kaminsky
Joan Houlihan’s previous books are The Us, named a must-read of 2009 by Massachusetts Center for the Book, The Mending Worm, winner of the Green Rose Award from New Issues Press, and Hand-Held Executions: Poems & Essays. Her work has 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 is founder and director of the Concord Poetry Center and the Colrain Poetry Manuscript Conference and she has taught at Columbia University and Emerson College. Currently on the faculty of Lesley University’s Low-Residency MFA Program in Cambridge, Massachusetts, she also teaches part-time at Clark University in Worcester, Massachusetts
DANCED THE ANTLERS, knelt
hims body—large still beast
killed to make me alive.
stand the night.
As spark on spark fed
smells bramble the fire.
Powders of hazel-shell flare.
Ay will be offered too.
Next world, will you have me?
“The immediate effect of the language used in The Us
is jarring, puzzling, as
risky and fragile in its emotional venture as it is alluring, like a riddle, for its difficulty and resistance,
the abruptness of the violence it depicts and its thoroughly physical appeal.”
— Michael Todd Steffen,
Boston Area Small Press and Poetry Scene