High Ground Coward

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Pub Date 15 Apr 2018 | Archive Date 01 Apr 2018
University of Iowa Press, Iowa Poetry Prize

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Description

Alicia Mountain’s urgent and astonishing debut collection maps a new queer landscape through terrain alive and sensual, defiant and inviting. With a voice that beckons while it howls, Mountain nimbly traverses lyric, confessional, and narrative modes, leaving groundbreaking tracks for us to follow. High Ground Coward offers fists full of soil, leftovers for breakfast, road trip as ritual, twins of lovers and twins of ourselves. This world blooms with hunger-inducing detail, its speakers asking us to consider what it will take to satisfy our own appetites while simultaneously trying to nourish one another. “Ferocious, even the softest part,” Mountain shows us “a way to fall in love with wanting,” leaving us “ravenous, but gradually.”

Bearing witness to identity formation in solitude and communion, High Ground Coward is an almanac of emotional and relational seasons. Mountain’s speakers question the meaning of inheritance, illness, violence, mythology, and family architecture. Whether Mountain is at work revealing the divinity of doubt, the entanglement of devotion, or the dominion that place holds over us, High Ground Coward heralds a thrilling poetic debut.

 

From “Scavenger” 

We three eat food and are in love. This is the easy way to say 

there are stores beneath the floor. 

Potatoes and shallots, 

hard-necked garlic streaked purple, 

jars beside jars, themselves 

each staving globes of suction. 

Preservation, a guardian hunger. 

In the evening I whisper to the boiled beet, 

like a naked organ in my flushed hand: 

You are ground blood, 

you are new born, 

you have never been nothing— 

thawfruit seedflower greenstart rootbulb 

handpull shedscrub mouthsweet 

and again. 

Alicia Mountain’s urgent and astonishing debut collection maps a new queer landscape through terrain alive and sensual, defiant and inviting. With a voice that beckons while it howls, Mountain nimbly...


Advance Praise

“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 

“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...


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ISBN 9781609385453
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High Ground Coward by Alicia Mountain is the Iowa Poetry Prize winner for 2017. Mountain is a poet and Ph.D. candidate at the University of Denver. Her work has been published or is forthcoming in Prairie Schooner, Pleiades, Witness, Zone 3, Colorado Review, and elsewhere. Mountain's work was nominated for a 2016 Pushcart Prize. She won an Academy of American Poets College Prize in 2014 and was a 2015 Idyllwild Fellow. She received her MFA from the University of Montana in Missoula.

This collection presents aspects from the poet's life. The landscape of Montana comes to stimulating life, especially in the winter. Spring comes but it is in conjunction with a relationship. There is a stream of consciousness in the work that seems organic and organized like a messy desk. It is all there and you know where everything is located but it is not in clearly labeled folders. The urgency of he voice adds to the natural flow of information. At times it seems a bit chaotic but never out of control. There still is a fuzziness that comes with words:

My father had no sons.
My mother sends my wife her love.
In all of this, forgiveness

assumes sin and I’m not sorry.

~ The Book is a Hungry Darkness

Much is implied but without the detail that a second person would assign to the same information. Like modernist's stream of consciousness put the reader inside a narrative brain, Mountain removes much of the narrative and puts the reader inside her mind without a guide. The careful reader will not be lost. "Little Rectangular Earths" and "Elysian / Echo" let the reader into a mind with naked thoughts.

There is a mix of memories road trips, childhood, trains, jobs, friends, and lovers in the work take on an almost dream-like quality. The imagery is constant and vivid as in "Closing Costs" although at times fragmented as memories or images of memories often are.  

This collection of poems for slow enjoyment; take your time. Images need to build and collect. Although this collection may not be for everyone, it does offer intensity that is absent from much of modern poetry.

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If you're looking for something light, easy to read or pass your time with, this isn't for you. I've been increasingly interested in poetry lately, but after reading a couple of collections I started doubting if anything would ever work for me. And High Ground Coward definitely did. That was everything I was looking for in modern poetry. I absolutely loved some poems, but I have to admit that others left me confused- not the "oh god what did I just read?" confused, but the "I want to read this until I finally understand every emotion and idea behind it" confused. I had no idea what to expect when I requested it from Netgalley, but I'm very happy I did and I wish every person interested in poetry would give this collection a try.

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A beautiful, evocative read. "High Ground Coward" is breathless and complicated as it navigates Mountain's world. "Disarray knows how to bide its time," she writes. It describes the book perfectly, and the way each poem feels at home in the collection. I've read her poems before in Sixth Finch, but the same words seem different in the context of "High Ground Coward"'s landscapes.

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Beautiful. The poems are so personal, it feels like a memoir at times. I dipped in and out if this collection over the course of a month, reading---and immediately rereading---a poem or two. The imagery is so rich that it begs to be revisited multiple times to get the full effect. There's story here. Highly recommend.

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