Joan Houlihan’s third book, The Us, is a fifty-one page sequence of poems recounting the story of an imagined pre-historical culture. The narrative focuses on one of the culture’s members in particular—in a sense, its first true individual—“ay.” Although the book 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. The Us is not monumental, nor is it meant to be.
The Us begins with a table of contents, an “Argument” (which is in fact a synopsis), and a list of the cast of characters. These three elements serve as guide to a vaguely familiar yet unnamed country and time where the living is primitive and the people’s speech is rendered in an English unlike any known before—a broken, thorny idiom that scrambles the linearity we associate with traditional heroic narratives. It is the hobbled tongue of an anti-hero, and with The Us, Houlihan has given us an anti-epic with a scrappy, rebellious underdog placed front and center.
Not Just Another Playlist Often, I sit in my swivel chair looking out the window, while jazz, country, or rock music plays. This pleasure goes on for many hours a mystic trance of sorts streaming—the glue maintaining my soul. I turn the best songs into playlists (once we called them mix tapes) puzzling over the perfect order. Does Satchmo’s “What a Wonderful World” kick off my latest list or make it the big soulful closer? And does “Mack the Knife” go higher in the set than “Summertime?” That’s an Ella Fitzgerald duet! “Foolishness? No, it’s not” whether you are climbing a tree to count all the leaves or tapping to beats. These are the joys that bring inner peace and balance (to a cold universe) lifting spirits skyward. David Oliver Cranmer ’s poems, short stories, articles, and essays have appeared in publications such as Punk Noir Magazine , The Five-Two: Crime Poetry Weekly , Needle: A Magazine of Noir , LitReactor , Macmillan’s Criminal Element , and