Friday, July 12, 2019

High Ground Coward - Alicia Mountain (University of Iowa Press)

Today's book of poetry:
High Ground Coward.  Alicia Mountain.  University of Iowa Press.  Iowa City, Iowa.  2018.


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Ray "Boom Boom" Mancini punches the lights out of "Southpaw Skin the Gloves" in an early poem out of High Ground Coward.  Alicia Mountain already had the full admiring attention of Today's book of poetry by the time we read the second poem in this startling good book.  High Ground Coward is anything but cowardly.  

Those of you too young to remember "Boom Boom" won't know that he killed a man in the ring.  Mountain is boxer brave at least.

How can poems you've never read before feel this familiar?  Mountain is intimate, wildly funny, loving, lusting and in each of these things there is an open honest intensity.  High Ground Coward is beyond refreshing, it's liberating.

Oh yes, this is "Queer" literature and Today's book of poetry wants to be respectful in this new gender-sensitive world.  But all you poetry babies better believe me when Today's book of poetry says that High Ground Coward is universal.  Alicia Mountain writes about love and desire and loss and all the rest of it and does so with such clear vision that she pierces your heart.  And your brain will follow this poet anywhere, Mountain has power.

On Being Told To Do Whatever I Want

Whatever I want is to run the stick of my deodorant
along each of your spread-eagle limbs
to dig my nails into your forearm at takeoff
and find turbulence every time
and be afraid of nothing and falling
to split a cake for dinner
or light the sheets on fire
to take a raccoon as a pet
train it to fold more tiny paper raccoons with its little human hands
to make twins of each of us
watch them braid each other's hair
watch them use their tongues
to know for certain we will die at night
to know which commodities you've stolen
and convince the hygienist I'm committed to flossing
to wipe away the lint stuck to my lips.
What I want has been crouched so long it cannot stand
it is filament
it is hardware store
it is someday I'll sharpen the knives
the skim milk of your belly and back.
I want leftovers for breakfast
want you gentle and heathen
I want to talk like a preacher in your bathrobe
to embarrass myself before company
until you paint my face a disguise
and call your mother
and hear her breathe on the phone
and hang up
and owe nothing to the bank
and the twins of us are in love
but won't say it
and the sound of their sleeping is ice melting in a jar.


Today's book of poetry has called in the support of some of the other Today's book of poetry staff simply because it seems I can't stop gushing.  High Ground Coward is pure cherse, Alicia Mountain can burn with anyone.

Today's book of poetry is telling you true, Alicia Mountain moved us to tears this morning, her poem "Almanac Traction" is a terse and tender ode, a loving promise, a Juliet/Juliet incantation.  In another world Raymond Carver might have written that poem.  That's not a "gender" comment — that is a "greatness" comment.  Yes, Today's book of poetry just said that Alicia Mountain's High Ground Coward is filled with GREAT poems.

High Ground Coward is Mountain's first book which excites the bejesus out of us here at Today's book of poetry because she is destined for something remarkable.  Kathryn, our Jr. Editor, said that reading Mountain was a little like the first time she heard Laura Nyro.  It's hard to believe the immediate connection, what you get to take in, what you get to keep.  Today's book of poetry couldn't agree more, when the reader starts to absorb the vibe Mountain is throwing, all bets are off.

If pressed to put a particular name to it, Today's book of poetry is going with "silk sledgehammer."  Mountain is as tough as she is tender.  Wickedly smart poetry with giant and invisible hooks.

Safety Off

There is a shooter     in the mall where she works.
She hasn't seen him yet     but customers are running
down the escalators in shrieks, becoming so fleshy
                                                                                 as they move.

She is the narrator, Jules tells me.
Walkie-talkies describe a gunman who is unmistakably
her angry angry stupid brother      lonely.

I am lazy. I don't even ask if his rampage brain
consummates what it set out to do.                Or I can't bear
that she put that kind of violence through skinny fingers.

Jules asks, should I write the ending so that the sister
                                                                               finds out he survives
or so that we don't know what happens to him?

She won't have the brother die, in the story.      I am disappointed.
     What is wrong with me that I want that?

I wait in my car outside her house,
                                         because it had seemed still to much winter to walk
to the movie—           which was very good.     It won an award.

For a week I tell anyone I like that it was
                                fight club and black swan and eternal sunshine put together—

On the street afterwards, I offer Caylin a ride too.
We let the car warm, watch a woman rehearse ballet in her kitchen.
               She moves like practice, elbows in,
                         just gesturing the turns and leaps,
                     her back to the window.

Caylin says we will all have sugarplum fairies
in apartments in our poems.
                              But I call dibs and Jules says dibs is real.

We spend a driveway half hour telling Caylin
     how to go on a date                      as if we know.
She asks if she should wear an all black outfit
           to the funeral we're going to on Thursday,
which is before her date,        which would be totally fine
                         because she looks good in black.

We say don't text the guy that    those fries are the bomb dot gov.
She goes with    those fries are insanely good   and tells us she loves us
and squeals
    and slams the car door
        and prances through the back-porch dark—

We have only a few blocks left to drive.      I tell Jules
       the narrator should find out her brother lives—
it would be the more terrible outcome,
                                                      the rest of that life.

You are so sinister, she says, undoing her seatbelt.

Should I leave it open-ended here?
Or write that she kisses me hard on the mouth,
                                                    the more unbearable thing.


Today's book of poetry has had versions of this problem before, our copy usually includes three poems, no more, no less, today we are flummoxed.  Today's book of poetry would happily share every fine poem in High Ground Coward.  Imagine, this Mountain's poem, "Palomino" is as good as ANY list poem Today's book of poetry has encountered, and you all know how much Today's book of poetry loves to share list poems.  Can't do it today,  But Today's book of poetry will share a one line teaser:

     "Can you smell the silence on my breath?"

Wow.  You can take Alicia Mountain's High Ground Coward to the bank all day long and never be disappointed.  In a moment of holy fuckwads admiration Today's book of poetry just actually yelled out loud in the office, something I rarely do.  It was one of those "I want a hallelujah and a holler" moments.  I just read this:

Little Rectangular Earths

On Fourth of July in the 90s
I was desperate for a glowstick.
I mean, I knew we were supposed
to be in it for the fire sky, for the
red glare. we all knew, even before
the skyline lost both front teeth.
Floods Hill carpeted in bare legs
and Tupperware and cops mostly
not caring about open containers.

I had a thing for aliens then,
the lemon-lime egghead tapering
to a pointed chin. I was in it for
the genderlessness of their power
and deep space and truth revealed
in cornfields. Wanted three bucks
so I could bite through a fluorescent
necklace and spit light from my insides,
as neon as I knew them to be.


Today's book of poetry would like to dedicate that last poem to our Southern Correspondent and alien loving hero, David Clewell, Poet/Saint of St. Louis.

Everyone in our office was a little over-whelmed by just how much poetry pleasure Alicia Mountain was willing to share.  Today's book of poetry thinks it is very important to recognize, respect, and give voice to everyone regardless of gender.  So we want to tip our hats to Mountain in this regard.  But Alicia Mountain needs no pampering, these poems will burn and will hold up to any scrutiny.  
Today's book of poetry loved Mountain's shady sense of humour, we totally attuned to her sense of justice.

     "I want us to disappear, but all together so we won't be alone"
                                                                           from Forward Falling Daytime

Finally Today's book of poetry will surrender, High Ground Coward is book we'd like to share in its entirety, it is that good.

Isn't this world a splendid place to have such poets as Alicia Mountain in it?  To be this good she must be ten foot tall.

Today's book of poetry hasn't had a poetry meal this good in recent memory.  Mountain burns like Holiday, burns like Ella, you now, incandescent.

Related image

Alicia Mountain

Alicia Mountain is a poet and scholar in the PhD program at the University of Denver. Mountain has been a writer in residence at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, an Idyllwild Arts Fellow, and a Pushcart Prize nominee. Mountain lives in Denver, Colorado.

“Alicia Mountain looks at every tiny thing very closely, and in doing that conveys the big picture of a vast inner life with marvelous clarity and depth. Her voice is intimate, brash, always precise, heartbreaking in both its vulnerability and its authority. These poems are carried away by both lust and intelligence. This poet understands desire: its expression lets loose while giving form. This book doesn’t detour, it goes right to and through the overpowered, relentless heart of its speaker and the reader is struck through too, and good. High Ground Coward is a dazzling debut by a rare, true talent.”
     —Brenda Shaughnessy, judge, Iowa Poetry Prize

High Ground Coward is raw and intimate. Alicia Mountain looks at what she loves and that foreground blurs into a backdrop of practical constraints and injustices. The poems press at those boundaries where desire starts to interfere with the opportunities of others and cast an unsparing eye on the cost. This is a book of hard, shifting, dreamlike gems.”
     —Joanna Klink, author, Excerpts from a Secret Prophecy



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