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Hand-Held Executions

handheld_coverPoems & Essays
Expanded Edition 2009

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“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.”
Reginald Shepherd

“. . . 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

“. . . an impressive control of prosody and an arch yet tender sensibility throughout, often distilling perceptions of the physical world into exacting, resonant imagery: “Sky contracts to one bird / and the cone of evening is lowered, / snuffs day out.”
Rusty Morrison, Boston Review

“. . . 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

“. . . shines with a serious lyrical burnish, in which image and truth alike take on the luster of icons . . . The scenes capture ev­erything from romance to high silence, finding won­derful weight in ethereal moments . . . feels both real and piercingly meta­phorical. . . . That Houlihan makes us feel it viscerally testifies to her genius for imagery, as well as her mastery of breathlessness. . . . With simple, bold tones, she out­lines the liminalities where sleep, waking, and other universal states merge in the personal. . . . tracing the lessons of pain and the necessary risk in re-crossing. . . . The vulnerability glows all the brighter be­cause she stays straightforward. . . . Houlihan’s gift for vernacular finesses the kind of poem that few do well: the meta narrative. . . . a mix of fire and tenderness. . . . The poetry . . . shines with a serious lyrical burnish in which image and truth alike take on the luster of icons . . . the essays offer a rare balance of research, beautiful wit, and bald honesty.”
—Chad Parmenter, American Book Review

Poems Online

Born Magazine

Caffeine Destiny

Web del Sol

Academy of American Poets

About the Essays

“This is the best thing I have read on the state of contemporary poetry.”
Ellen Dudley, Editor, The Marlboro Review

“The best, most incisive poetry critic in the country. Marvelous. Brilliant.”
Jared Carter

“Brava. I appreciate your protest against the reification and gollygee.”
R.T. Smith, Editor, Shenandoah

“I think what really bugs people is how efficiently Houlihan takes down sacred cows. Where BKS finds her “unreadable” I don’t follow—is she too concise for your taste? Not prolix & patronizing enough? Her little essay on Langpo is classic demolition. Her critique of the bland & cliched accessible-poetics of a Billy Collins is right on. Her blast against the empty, aesthetically-null verbiage of such poems as represented in Fence was also a bull’s-eye.
Henry Gould

“It’s funny, your poems don’t suck as much as I thought they would based on the idiocy of your essay.”
—Rebecca Wolff, Editor, Fence

“I won’t waste time addressing most of your asinine and labored arguments. I just want to make a few comments regarding your gross stupidities and generalizations.”
Dale Smith, Editor, Skanky Possum

“Houlihan doesn’t know how to read post-avant work in any of its varieties & can’t even see the differences when they’re up front & fairly obvious.”
Ron Silliman

“The ability to admire, take pleasure from work which one can’t write about from a position of mastery is crucial–if one cultivates it, it becomes central to one’s reading experience; if one dosen’t, I suspect, one ends up hardening into a Houlihan . . .”
Nick LoLordo

“I was like, “Joan Houlihan, you’re a total retard.”"
Rebecca Wolff, Editor, Fence

“i beg you to keep your antiquated, NOSTALGIC, crappy ideas about literature to yourself.”
Charles Ebersole

“are you an idiot?”
Charles Ebersole

“She doesn’t, and will not, get it.”
Jim Berhle

“Houlihan’s diatribe reveals a fundamental incoherence not just in her own thinking, but in a much larger set of social attitudes and assumptions about poetry.”
K. Silem Mohammad

“kudos! all hail! bravo bravo bravo for the newest “boston comment.” oh, it hits the spot. joan, you have done us all a great service with this one, and you will almost certainly get nasty emails from the partisans about the terrible crime you have committed against american poetry. but you have committed no crime– you have done what needs doing. If robert bly were the robert bly of 40 years ago, he’d be publishing you in “the sixties”! marvelous. keep up the good work.
Cooper S. Renner

Many, many more letters online at Boston Comment.

Read the essays on Boston Comment.