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ISBN: 978-0-9826364-4-2
Categories Poetry

Speech Acts

Publication Date: May 2010


At first glance, Laura McCullough’s collection, Speech Acts-borrowing its title from the branch of linguistics interested in the nature and intention of artifacts of language and their effect in communication-may seem overly sensational, the surface subject matter at times blatantly sexual, but on closer interrogation, McCullough is attempting to strip away the obfuscations of language(s), the barriers between genders, the difficulties of intimacy and reveal the relational and power balances between people. Behind the sometimes erotically charged poems in Speech Acts is a real concern for linguistics, the philosophy of, the tools of. Beneath the bawdy, glittering surface and language play in Speech Acts is McCullough’s desire to “kiss the mouth of another/ language$$ to go beyond the veils that separate people, nations, perhaps this world from whatever comes after. These poems are not just about love; they grieve over the impossibility of ever fully comprehending anything at all, let alone another human being.


“McCullough’s poems are manic, heartfelt and humane; and they crackle with what the Reverend Marvin Gaye would have called ‘textual healing.'”

-Tony Hoagland

“‘Is language our sexiest proboscis?’ asks Laura McCullough, then responds with an unabashed word-slinging to bolster her rhetorical affirmation. If her lines charge each poem with vibrancy–‘it’s all in the syntax’–it’s because McCullough knows ‘how good secrets can be handled right, / by the various names we give them.’ Her enthusiasms for Adam’s task as well as for Eve’s sensuality provide Speech Acts with a rollicking measure. ‘You gotta like it / to do it well,’ McCullough half-jokes, and her pleasures become our own in this provocative and wildly entertaining book.”

-Michael Waters

About the Author

© Emory Broek

Laura McCullough

Laura McCullough’s newest book of poems is Women & Other Hostages (Black Lawrence Press, 2021). Her previous books from Black Lawrence Press are Jersey MercyRigger Death & Hoist Another, and Speech Acts. Her other books include The Wild Night Dress, selected by Billy Collins for the Miller Williams Poetry Series (University of Arkansas Press, 2017), Panic (winner of the Kinereth Kensler Award, Alice James Books, 2009), and What Men Want (XOXOX Press). She is the editor of two anthologies, A Sense of Regard: Essays on Poetry and Race (University of Georgia Press) and The Room and the World: Essays on Stephen Dunn (Syracuse University Press). Her work has appeared in Best American Poetry, Georgia Review, American Poetry Review, The Writer’s Chronicle, Guernica, The Southern Review, Gulf Coast, Pank, Hotel America, Prairie Schooner, and many other journals and magazines. She has had scholarships or fellowships to the Bread Loaf Writers Conference, the Nebraska Summer Writers Conference, Sewanee Writers Conference, the Vermont Studio Center, the Virginia Center for the Arts, and has been a Dodge Poetry Festival poet, a Florida Writers Circuit poet, and a Decatur Book Festival poet. She has had three NJ State Arts Council Fellowships, two in poetry and one in prose. She received her MFA from Goddard College and teaches full time at Brookdale Community College in NJ where she founded the Creative Writing Program and is on the faculty of the Sierra Nevada low-res MFA and has taught for Ramapo College and Stockton University. Visit her at

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