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Literature & Fiction - Poetry

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Beast Meridian

ISBN: 9781934819654
Binding: Paperback
Author: Vanessa A. Villarreal
Pages: 88
Trim: 8 x 10 inches
Published: 01/01/2017

BEAST MERIDIAN narrates the first- generation Mexican American girl, tracking the experiences of cultural displacement, the inheritance of generational trauma, sexist and racist violence, sexual assault, economic struggle, and institutional racism and sexism that disproportionately punishes brown girls in crisis. Narrated by a speaker in mourning marked as an at- risk juvenile, psychologically troubled, an offender, expelled and sent to alternative school for adolescents with behavioral issues, and eventually, a psychiatric hospital, it survives the school to prison pipeline, the immigrant working class condition, grueling low- pay service jobs, conservative classism against Latinxs in Texas, queerness, assimilation, and life wrapped up in frivolous citations, fines, and penalties. The traumatic catalyst for the long line of trouble begins with the death of a beloved young grandmother from preventable cervical cancer—another violence of systemic racism and sexism that prevents regular reproductive and sexual health care to poor immigrant communities—and the subsequent deaths of other immigrant family members who are mourned in the dissociative states amidst the depressive trauma that opens the book. The dissociative states that mark the middle—a surreal kind of shadowland where the narrator encounters her animal self and ancestors imagined as animals faces brutal surreal challenges on the way back to life beyond trauma—is a kind of mictlan, reimagined as a state of constant mourning that challenges American notions of "healing" from trauma, and rather acknowledges sadness, mourning, and memory as a necessary state of constant awareness to forge a "way back" toward a broader healing of earth, time, body, history.


Vanessa Angélica Villarreal was born in the Rio Grande Valley to formerly undocumented Mexican immigrants. She is the author of the poetry collection Beast Meridian (Noemi Press, Akrilica Series 2017), recipient of a 2019 Whiting Award, a Kate Tufts Discovery Award nomination, and winner of the John A. Robertson Award for Best First Book of Poetry from the Texas Institute of Letters. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, New York Magazine's The Cut, Harper's Bazaar, Oxford American, Paris Review, Poetry Magazine, and elsewhere. She is a recipient of a 2021 National Endowment for the Arts Poetry Fellowship, and a doctoral candidate in English Literature and Creative Writing at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, where she is working on a poetry and an essay collection while raising her son in Los Angeles.


"Beast Meridian is a fierce incantation, harnessing the intuition and intelligence of personae navigating a 'melancholy galaxy' full of the violences of societies and families, in which the pain of the earth and the pain of the body are not separate. In languages of tenderness and weaponry, landscapes and bodyscapes, insight and foresight, talismanic memories and imaginings, Vanessa Angelica Villareal constructs layered complications to see newly into, or grieve not being able to look beyond. Far from surrender, the poems write toward a communal resilience: 'entre todas las mujeres we kneel to push away the final night'—a unity among wounded women, their collective mythology infused with necessary interrogations and radiant intensity, as they (and their words) 'spill & spill until we spread / like a flood.'" - Khadijah Queen

"Vanessa Villareal's poems are alive, haired, precise and strange with ardor, with loss, with a remembering (live and lit!) born out of the crossroads of elegy and desire. With these poems I feel I have the rare and gorgeous chance to experience a formal invention built out of urgency, and with such intimacy. Here there is a diction, a music, knived and lucid. A body, or bodies, shapeshifting across pages, possessed and dispossessing, dying-birthing-getting born, simultaneously 'I' and 'we': 'your black cervix my first egg drop & / so we hatched myself—'. There is such a brilliance everywhere here." - Aracelis Girmay

"In Beast Meridian, Vanessa Angélica Villarreal braids searing lyricism and intimate narratives into utterances and patterns that radicalize the heart and the eye. Rooted in the borderlands, Villarreal's language—scarred but alive—confronts and refutes the violence of erasure and assimilation. 'Every brutal abandoning' of the self and of the flesh is rigorously and intensely rendered. Line after line shimmers with grace and fury. Vanessa Angélica Villarreal is an innovative and necessary poet. Beast Meridian is a high watermark in Latinx poetry. I will be teaching it often." - Eduardo C. Corral