High Ground Coward

Alicia Mountain. Univ. of Iowa, $19.95 trade paper (100p) ISBN 978-1-60938-545-3
In search of stable ground, Mountain crosses terrain as foreboding as her name in her Iowa Poetry Prize–winning debut. “I became reliant/ on potting soil. I kept forty pounds/ in my trunk as a more hopeful sandbag,” proclaims Mountain’s speaker, a queer lover, fighter, and seeker. The poems often signal an understanding of purpose and utility (“I am not funny at parties, but I’m good with the leftovers”) while maintaining a consistent momentum. The collection’s strongest poems are those that convey concrete details about places, often magnificent and precarious landscapes: cliffs, steep hillsides, alpine passes piled with snow that are impossible to pass without tire chains. Attention to domesticity marks the work’s flip side: “NPR in the kitchen and a woman who is impressed/ every time I make the salad dressing.” In one long poem, cribbage becomes a metaphor for family-making and relationship-building. Here, the tension between wild and domestic can be evinced amid an awareness of fight-or-flight impulses: “I know we’ve got animals in us like a house on fire./ They smell the smoke and they’re digging at the doorframe.” Exhibiting a strong voice and a knack for intimate detail, Mountain delivers a collection that “Paints you in colors./ Leaves you half dead.” (Apr.)
Reviewed on: 05/07/2018
Release date: 04/01/2018
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