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.
“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.’” —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