Winner of the 2017 Agha Shahid Ali Poetry Prize
In a startling voice propelled by desire and desperation on the verge of laughter, these poems leap from the mundane to the sublime, from begging to bravado, from despair to reverie, revealing the power that comes from hanging on by a thread. Poet Heather June Gibbons conjures belief in the absence of faith, loneliness in the digital age, beauty in the face of absurdity—all through the cataract of her sunglasses’ cracked lens. In this debut collection, we are shown a world so turbulent, anxious, and beautiful, we know it must be ours. Under pressure, these poems sing.
Includes a foreword by Jericho Brown.
From the poem “Bobby Reads Chekhov”
They say if you’re sad, you haven’t been
smiling enough. Want to make better decisions?
Eat more cheese. Perception is reality,
my horrible boss used to say when I’d try
to explain anything she couldn’t see,
though maybe she was right. Can we know
reality any other way? The painter saw
purple in the trees, so he painted them purple.
Leaving the gallery, we see purple everywhere.
Studies have shown meditation makes
brain waves akin to coma. Is that so,
you say, fingering your tiny screen.
Heather June Gibbons was born in Utah and grew up on an island in Washington State. She is the author of a chapbook, Flyover, and her poems have appeared widely in literary journals, including Blackbird, Boston Review, Drunken Boat, Gulf Coast, Indiana Review, jubilat, New American Writing, and West Branch. A graduate of the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop, she has been the recipient of fellowships and awards from the Fine Arts Work Center of Provincetown, the Prague Summer Program, and the Vermont Studio Center. She teaches creative writing at San Francisco State University, and in public schools for Performing Arts Workshop, a youth education non-profit. She lives in San Francisco.
Praise and Reviews:
“Not since Josh Bell’s No Planets Strike have I encountered an emerging poet's book that took the top of my head off with as sure a slice as Heather June Gibbon’s Her Mouth as Souvenir. Her language is wicked, syncopated and full of canny stings, with a quality of idiosyncratic consciousness that’s utterly contemporary. This is a singular collection, serving notice that Gibbons is a force with whom poetry readers will be thrilled to reckon.”
—Erin Belieu, author of Slant Six and Black Box
“Part garage-rock, part requiem, part power ballad, Gibbons' book is a whirling ‘study in loss.’ These pulsing poems sing, shout, and interrogate everything from desire to the digital age to a Midwestern waterpark, while luring us into their restless beauty, fervor, and humor. Spinning with silver suits and phosphorescent blooms, and attentive to the legerdemain of language, Her Mouth as Souvenir is both torch and torch singer as it shines its light into our mouths, illuminating us.”
—Simone Muench, author of Wolf Centos
”I love this book and the way it cries out in well-crafted poems that aren’t under the impression that craft has anything to do with boredom. Her Mouth as Souvenir is a declarative wonder, a testament to our need to go and go on.”
—Jericho Brown, author of The New Testament