July Westhale is a poet of remarkable grace, and her debut collection of poems, Trailer Trash, is a diamond bit-sharp exploration of trauma, memory, loss and longing. This is the kind of poetry that drills down into bone and marrow. These are songs of hard-won experience, innocence be damned.
Tackling the death of her mother at a young age, the poverty of her childhood in the cotton country of Riverside County, Southern California, and the exploration of her sexuality as a young mixed-race woman, Westhale weaves a vivid, colour-drenched tapestry of her past and present lives with care. Every phrase, every line is so adroit that, by the time you finish this book, your mind will be swirling with a sense of fire and revolt.
You will remember Westhale's portrait of herself as two girls in ‘Ars Poetica’, in which one girl offers kindness only for the other to exploit this kindness and kill her in the process. It’s a poem of arresting beauty and exactitude. Not a single word is wasted and yet the subtext is dense, demonstrating the ways in which our twin selves offer contradistinctive approaches to the world: self-nurture interlocked with self-detonation, self-consideration versus self-cruelty.
In ‘Intolerable Objects/ Tomato’ we get our first glimpse of the poet’s hardscrabble childhood: ‘In the yard, a woman paid to care/ feeds our soiled underwear to potbelly pigs.’
You will remember the following lines and they will haunt you:
‘I was born in a dry world, and we lived/ as chasms among men, saguaros/ with hundreds of years holding rain; / the same, in a sense, as wild beasts in battle, who want for water.’
‘For truth, I say I remember/ this mother, the mother of my nights/ bringing home a jackrabbit, / pulling a tooth trap from its pelage to slit/ the pregnant belly, knowing/ the body to be a stasis and the desert a hell/ and the knife the only bridge between the two.’
Trailer Trash is a dazzler of a debut, and July Westhale is a poet to celebrate.
JULY WESTHALE is photographed by JULIA SPARENBERG.