Lily Poetry Review: The Acute Avian Heart by Joey Gould

Praise for The Acute Avian Heart

The poems in The Acute Avian Heart present to the reader a searing, yet conversational look at the inside of a fine poetic mind—one sharp & ready for the world & all of its bounty of nuance. It takes an astute & careful poet to create a landscape that not only holds many truths but also enacts the co-existence of said truths using form, song, units of sound. & perhaps the most startling & poignant aspect of this collection is that it does not shy away from harsh realities, but rather, invites the reader into them, shows facets softened with wisdom & praise, shot through with love. Not the kind of love we like to reduce to one or two probabilities, but an infinite love, a nearly-ecstatic love: “It tastes like/genuine affection—not even love, but sweet:/a still, low lake.” This collection is a brilliant one, from an emerging poet at the start of a supersonic career.

–July Westhale, author of Trailer Trash, Via Negativa, Occasionally Accurate Science, & Quantifiable Data

Those familiar with Joey’s work will know their seamless ability to marry nature with the self (with friends with death with hope), and those new to their work will appreciate the vulnerability and preciseness of their words. Each piece in this collection is like a feather on the heart of the reader, a lightness that weighs the soul slowly, warmly. The Acute Avian Heart is a masterful collection made up of the delicateness of a bird’s bone and the sharp, ruthless edge of a talon ready to tear. A must-read from one of Massachusetts’ most talented poets.

–Kolleen Carney Hoepfner author, Your Hand Has Fixed the Firmament; A Live Thing, Clinging with Many Teeth

In an original, organic style, this collection charts a poet discovering they would like to survive. It’s a discovery that comes about both through the tussle for self-acceptance and through cherishing companions, lost and found, with an almost unbearable tenderness. Vulnerable and knowing, “The Acute Avian Heart” is an exhilarating debut.

–J.D. Scrimgeour, author of Themes for English B, Lifting the Turtle, & Spin Moves.

The grand motif throughout this stunning debut is what Yeats called “a terrible beauty,” and Gould undergoes transformations—grief, loss, gender, love, sex—in that dangerous place where the human and the terrifyingly endangered non-human worlds overlap.  “The Acute Avian Heart” is a brutal multitude of new, ancient voices, a feast before which Gould examines the guts of their past and present like a haruspex, searching for the precise configurations to carry grief into a celebration, an impossibility of doors, a world behind each.  Gould is the future songbird, “the robin’s antimatter aloof eye,” through which, for once, the future looks good.

–Sam Witt, author of Little Domesday Clock.

Read Sample Poems from The Acute Avian HeartSample Poems from The Acute Avian Heart by Joey Gould


Mom looks small in the yard

with her tall thin rake sweeping

up the trees as they crumple

& I help her bag the stricken

giants’ guts. The day is chill—

as crisp as a glass of wine, nearly

bitter like anything savory—

so we’re locking up the world

for winter & then

there are boxes, always

more boxes of his stuff

to give or file or toss,

but at least she can be outside

that mess for a while longer,

trading the extinguished light

for the waning reds & oranges

of fall. Raking as a tribute—

collecting deaths, making them

seem containable.


Excruciating reflection of the sun

on the water & you, staring

at an oblique tree after a trill—


the sea never mattered. Your friend

last night said the coast was the only

reason she could stand as she stood


under a tree smoking, & you looked

behind her at a grafted branch

braced & tied to a driftwood splint


as if it could heal

or maybe since it never will.

You aren’t listening.


Listening never mattered, only

standing under a broken limb

as she talked about some boy.


Somehow you all manage to be friends

though she used to get blitzed

& kiss you. Never sober.


You love her. You love veeries.

Inchworms. Why?

The bird illuminating the tree,


the bug folding & pressing until if:

if wind conditions, if travel plans,

the weather cooperating just right.


Then the veery bolts over the sound,

unimpressive to look at, sure,

but tugging long after you lose sight.