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.