Ay by Joan Houlihan – A brave experiment

Ay: PoemsAy: Poems by Joan Houlihan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A fine experiment in primitivist language. Houlihan here uses a diction entirely from the Anglo-Saxon to suggest the mind of a human on the verge of or just passed into language. The basic plot is a youth who leaves the clan, injured physically and by the separation, who reunites with his literal or tribal brother, and who is baptized in the end with a rain of consciousness and perhaps forgiveness.

The poetry is brilliant with clarity in observation of nature. I got used to the almost precious use of “Ay” as a name of “I.” However, the use of “hims” and “thems” as possessives seemed unnecessary and distracting. A quibble.

Houlihan writes with a wonderfully musical ear. It is pleasing in a time of poetry that is prosaic to the point of dullness to hear language rise from the page. It is a brave experiment, and it largely works.

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