13th Balloon

Mark Bibbins

Mark Bibbins’s book-length poem sequence brings the AIDS crisis of the 1980s and ’90s into new light—an account that approximates, with stunning lyricism, “what music sounds like / just before the record skips.” Addressed to a dead beloved, 13th Balloon troubles the cloud-like space of grief by piecing together the fragmented experiences of youth and loss, anguish and desire. Part elegy, part memoir in verse, this is a groundbreaking collection whose trajectory runs counter to the impulse toward nostalgia, unearthing what was thought to have burned in the fire.

ISBN: 9781556595776

Format: Paperback

About the Author

Mark Bibbins is the author of three books with Copper Canyon: 13th Balloon; They Don’t Kill You Because They’re Hungry, They Kill You Because They’re Full, named one of the best poetry collections of 2014 by Publishers Weekly; and The Dance of No Hard Feelings. He teaches in the graduate writing programs at Columbia University and The New School, where he co-founded LIT magazine, and in NYU’s Writers in Florence program. His work has appeared in Poetry, The New Yorker, …

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“A book-length elegy to a beloved who died of AIDS in 1992, Bibbins’s spare, crystalline sequence is also a powerful memorial for ‘a generation fully / accustomed to being struck down.’” —The New York Times

“Keenly weaves together fragments of memory and metaphor with Bibbins’s signature wit, touched with a bold sense of loss.” —Maya Phillips for The New York Times

“Achingly beautiful… The scope of this darkly humorous and always tender book paints a portrait of grief as a fellow traveler that morphs but loses none of its power over time—a power readers will be lucky to experience.” —Publishers Weekly, starred review

“Bibbins’s fourth and best book… Poems that are at once profoundly touching and bitterly resolved.” —NPR

“With humility, anger, and honesty, 13th Balloon carries its questions across those great distances… In Bibbins’s wise possession, a letter to the lost becomes a living testament: to the repeated attempts and failures we make to understand how we might go on, and to our going on.” —American Poetry Review

“Devastating and beautiful… Bibbins precisely observes his grief in sharp, crisp lines and details.” —The Week

“The stark, unfussy lines with their steep enjambments make 13th Balloon feel like something rescued from time… [T]he book is as raw and shocking as the events it describes must have felt, nearly 30 years ago. The list of exceptional books wrenched from the mouth of the plague is deep, but Bibbins has just added another essential one to it.” —John Freeman, Literary Hub

“…When a lover dies, some part of ourselves also drifts away along with language, memory and feeling, and this is perhaps the crux of Bibbins’ beautiful and powerful book. The book is essentially one shifting elision of memory, thought, anecdote, and ephemera, explored from numerous vantage points. Always in sight is that tender specter of grief released, vivid against a bright void… It is full of humor, wit and pathos. And it exhibits an amazing lyric facility that permits Bibbins his return to metaphor, irony, tension and paradox, all blended in a metaphysical unity.” —Lambda Literary

“An elegy that is as delicate as it is courageous, fleeting and kinetic as it is true.”—The Rumpus 

“Bibbins’ elegiac new book, 13th Balloon, is a single novella-length poem, accessible to even poetry-averse readers. Like its namesake, the verse floats across time and space, moving gracefully from the present to the past.” —Passport Magazine

“Anybody who’d like to observe a contemporary poet having a go at producing The Real Thing, should get a hold of this book. It’s that rare deal: a book you know you’re not done with when you close it.”—RHINO

“Bibbins is guided by memory and longing and the true wish to have back some of what’s gone. This speaker, who is as vulnerable as language allows, knows these poems have arrived too late: ‘I have only language for you now/ a language/ that morphs like a virus/ to elude to survive to connect,’ Alas, Bibbins seems to have anticipated this year’s seasons of grief, and he is kind company.” —Craig Morgan Teicher, NPR

“In the last few years, there has been a number of books that look back at the tragedy that was the AIDS epidemic. With 13th Balloon, Bibbins throws his hat into the ring, and what a lush, gorgeous hat it is! Many poems are addressed to his lover who died at 25. How does one deal with loss, with grief, with atonement, with grace? Bibbins doesn’t have answers, but how he poses the questions is nothing short of miraculous.”—Rabih Alameddine, Literary Hub

“…There is a level of vulnerability in these poems that sears the page… 13th Balloon asks you to remember, to not look away.” —Los Angeles Review of Books 

“A single poem, it comes at a time when we continue to need reminding not only of the progress that we have made in the lives of those affected by the disease, but also that poetry continues to be a medium in which a sense of where we are and where we grow, remains a matter of innate attention to connection, understanding, and hope. It is a map of a particular experience that lends these very elements to new audiences of diverse backgrounds, engaging us in what the poetry of AIDS can provide.”—A&U, America’s AIDS Magazine

“I think this book bestows simultaneous blessings—and I don’t use the word ‘blessing’ lightly—in the form of a profound contemplation of death on behalf of the living and a luminous tribute to life on behalf of the dead.”The Rumpus

13th Balloon, even as it speaks to the past, feels deeply relevant today.”—Paisley Rekdal for Poetry Society of America

As featured in:

O, The Oprah Magazine, “42 Best LGBTQ Books of 2020”

NPR’s Favorite Books of 2020

NBC, “The 20 Best LGBT Books to Gift This Holiday Season”

Awards & Honors

The Thom Gunn Award for Gay Poetry, 2021