After eight years of working toward her book release, Heather June Gibbons, an SF State creative writing professor, debuted her first full-length book, “Her Mouth As Souvenir,” during a reading at the Poetry Center on campus last week.
The Bay Area poet has already been awarded the Agha Shahid Ali Poetry Prize from the University of Utah Press for her outstanding work in “Her Mouth As Souvenir,” which takes readers through a rollercoaster of emotions within each poem.
“‘Her Mouth as Souvenir’ is about a lot of things that relate to our contemporary moment [daily life] and that will be relatable for college students — anxiety, late capitalism, music, digital culture, technologies of communication, absurdity, loneliness, desire, love,” Gibbons said. “It feels great to be able to share it with students on campus. I’m excited it’s finally out in the world.”
Gibbons compares her book to “endless feeds of images and clickbait” because college students find themselves scrolling through their phones on a day-to-day basis. The vivid images that accompany her poems support the issues of reality and perception as she delves into each poem.
Gibbons began her writing career in her home state, Utah. She is a graduate of the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop and her poems have been featured in prominent literary journals, such as Best New Poets, Boston Review, New American Writing and more.
Amie Whittemore, from the literary journal Southern Indiana Review, said that the book “asks more questions than it answers, opens more doors than it closes; heck, it’s inventing doors along the way.”
When Gibbons is not teaching at SF State, she is either teaching at the Writing Salon, a creative writing school for adults, or as a teaching artist for the Performing Arts Workshop, a non-profit arts education program for the youth.
“I have always cherished the fortune of taking her [Gibbons’] courses,” said Isabella Robertson-Cooper, an SF State student and current instructional aide for Gibbons’ creative writing 101 course. “She incorporates a perfect amount of knowledge and creative freedom in her curriculum, which leaves me satisfied not only as a student but also as a writer.”
Most of Gibbons’ inspiration results from reading articles or hearing something on the news that sticks with her to the point that she decides to dig deeper, draw connections and think metaphorically about the topic.
In the poem, “Bobby Reads Chekhov,” Gibbons expressed that the idea behind the poem transcended from a thought she had on proportion and perception.
“I’d read an article about a new research study showing the effects of reading on the brain, particularly that reading fiction arouses certain areas of the brain associated with empathy,” she said. “I was also thinking about all of the stuff we read online, and all the headlines and images we scroll through and past, and the clickbait.”
Gibbons could not recall if the participants indicated in the study were reading about Anton Chekhov, a Russian playwright and short-story writer, specifically or if she just imagined it. Nevertheless, it led her to write this poem that has now become many of her readers’ favorite.
Students and members of the community can experience a reading of more poems by Gibbons and other emerging Bay Area poets at the upcoming Litquake event, a San Francisco literary festival in the Mission at 6 p.m. on Sunday, Oct. 14.