Creative Writing Lecturer Heather June Gibbons’ provocative new poetry collection is a literary punch to the face. Her Mouth As Souvenir, due in June from the University of Utah Press, is a distinctly critical perspective on society, including our attempts to possess, poison, alter, control and falsely represent nature and women’s bodies, she says.
The book won the 2017 Agha Shahid Ali Poetry Prize. To imagine Gibbons’ mouth as a souvenir is to unleash a litany of terrifying consequences: wildfires, changes to migratory patterns, organ mutation, the hydrogen bomb. Throughout the book, readers will find a lot of imagining one thing as another, a lot of metaphor, simile, metonym and associative leaping.
“Part garage-rock, part requiem, part power ballad, Gibbons’ book is a whirling ‘study in loss,’” says Simone Muench, author of Wolf Centos. “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.”
The title Her Mouth as Souvenir comes from a line in “Nature,” a feminist and environmentalist poem in the book.
“These poems are crafted from the material of everyday experience, with all its anxiety, absurdity and flashes of beauty,” Gibbons says. “They are credos, love poems and elegies, and they’re about a lot of different things: loneliness, restlessness, technology, desire, late capitalism, perception, juxtaposition, and, well, music. Some of them are even a little funny.”
Born in Utah, Gibbons grew up on an island in Washington state. Before teaching creative writing at San Francisco State, she taught at Purdue University and University of Iowa. She is a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and is the recipient of fellowships and awards from the Fine Arts Work Center of Provincetown, Prague Summer Program and Vermont Studio Center. Gibbons’ poems have appeared widely in literary journals, including Blackbird, Boston Review, Drunken Boat, Gulf Coast, Indiana Review, jubilat, New American Writing and West Branch.
— Ufuoma Umusu
Photo courtesy of Heather June Gibbons. Video by Sreang Hok.