Local lesbian poet and winner of the 2017 Iowa Poetry Prize Alicia Mountain communicates raw human experience through her writing, something more than just queer woman can relate to. Her recent poetry book, High Ground Coward, portrays intense personal topics such as relationships, and the deep emotion she feels for her surroundings. Through this boundary-pushing verse, she hopes to broaden the community of poetry readers and writers.
I am trying to build a world in my work that puts a variety of human experiences kind of on equal footing,” she explained. “I don’t just write poems for other queer women; I am writing poems that hopefully speak to a broad audience.”
OUT FRONT met with her to discuss her poetry, her love for Colorado, and current issues facing the queer community.
How did you first become a writer and get interested in poetry?
I started writing probably in high school and then through college, but I started out writing short stories and personal essays, that sort of thing. I didn’t start writing poetry until I graduated from college. I kind of got into poetry because I was living in New York; I started taking community poetry workshops at the 92nd st. YMCA, and those were my first poetry class experiences.
What themes does your poetry normally focus on?
Identity is definitely present in my work, but moreover it’s really image-driven, so it’s about seeing the world around us. Some of that has to do with being in relationships with other people, but also being in relationships with landscape, and kind of all the range of human experience.
In your poetry and interviews you talk about living in cities and also in more rural areas. What appeals to you about both ways of living?
I think I’m interested in looking at still moments, and I find those in cities and also in more natural spaces and those moments of quiet, or in a close look at a moment of experience. When those come up, wherever we are, sometimes they are most pointed in environments that kind of catch the eye or catch the ear; where that sensory information is coming from is what I’m drawn to.
I found a quote from you saying that queerness isn’t just about partnership or sex. What does queerness mean to you, and why is it an important theme in your work?
One of the reasons I love poetry is because I think of it as a queer form [of writing]. In poetry we don’t necessarily have to play by the rules of complete sentences or of standard punctuation or capitalization, so building vocabulary, building syntax, and building worlds in language through these kind of new creative modes that maybe disrupt some norms feels inherently queer to me. More in terms of just who I am as a poet and who I am as a person, my lesbian identity is something that I am so lucky to get to express, and I know that a lot of the folks who came before us didn’t have that opportunity. It’s right there on the page, and I just kind of can’t help but be honest about who I am.
How has your own identity as queer and your journey as a queer woman intersected with poetry?
I think that being a lesbian woman and growing up not exactly seeing myself well-represented or seeing women who I identified with celebrated in culture has influenced some of the themes around both pride, and also kind of absence and longing, and silence, that are in this book, and at the same time I am trying to build a world in my work that puts a variety of human experiences kind of on equal footing.
I don’t just write poems for other queer women; I am writing poems that hopefully speak to a broad audience.
What do you think are some of the main social issues facing queer people today, and how can we address them with poetry?
My queer pride and my feminism are definitely rooted in intersectionality, so really the issues that are facing the queer community I think aren’t necessarily uniform, because the issues of masculine-presenting, white, upper class men are going to be really different than the issues of folks in our community with less privilege. Of course we have pointed moments of oppression that are coming down politically under this administration, but I think the most pressing issue in the LGBTQ community would be the need to give more attention to those of us who are still under the boot of capitalist oppression, under the boot of racial oppression, misogyny.
This is for the Colorful Colorado issue, so what is beautiful to you about Colorado?
I love seeing the Rocky Mountains, even from the city, even at a distance. I love being able to see that vast presence that kind of watches over us, and I love even when it’s really dry and dusty in Colorado, the way that that atmosphere feels like an embrace.
Colorado is magical in a lot of ways because it’s so rural, but it has attracted so many liberal folks and kind of become this safe haven. But, with that, gentrification has happened. How do you think we can keep this place magical, but also look out for the folks who are being impacted?
I think that ideally—listening. A practice of deep listening to the folks who have made Denver the place that we are all flocking too now. I’m thinking of conversations with elders, and especially with folks in communities of color that are being displaced through gentrification, and I think we want to avoid what has happened in cities like San Francisco, where culture and roots are displaced with capitalist motivations.
Do you have anything cool you want to announce about upcoming events, book releases, etc.?
I’d love if everyone would check out my book, High Ground Coward, or follow me on Twitter, @higroundcoward.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
I would love to just talk about how poetry can feel a little bit inaccessible to a lot of folks. People get scared off from poetry. I would love to introduce more people in our community to poetry, whether that’s reading it or writing it as a way to connect with emotional depth and reflection on who we are. I also want to just say, don’t think there is any right way to read a poem; just read it with your gut, and when you find something you like, try to read more of it. If you find a poet whose work you like, read them more. More poetry readers would be great.