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.
“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
“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