High Ground Coward
2017 Iowa Poetry Prize
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“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’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.
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