Vanessa Angélica Villarreal is the author of Beast Meridian (Noemi Press, 2017), a recipient of a 2019 Whiting Award, a 2018 Texas Institute of Letters Poetry Prize, and a 2019 Kate Tufts Discovery Award finalist. Her work appears or is forthcoming in The New York Times, Poetry Magazine, BuzzFeed, The Boston Review, The Rumpus, and elsewhere. She is currently pursuing her doctorate in Los Angeles, where she is raising her son with the help of a loyal dog.
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.”
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.
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.
REVIEWS AND PRAISE
- The poems of Vanessa Angélica Villarreal transport readers into a wilderness, a porous border world of dual (or multiple) identities. Visually striking, rooted in the borderlands, Beast Meridian is a fiercely feminist book that refuses easy closure and answers. The lines blaze with anger and empathy, and the craft astonishes. Beast Meridian will serve as an example of what’s possible in American poetry in the twenty-first century. In a word: gorgeous.” — Whiting Award Selection Committee, 2019
- “The power and pulse in Villarreal’s debut collection of poems comes from the courage to write “for the great violences hidden inside women/ For the women hidden inside great violences.” Her emotional territory is expansive, reaching far into the mythologies of Mexico and the borderlands, the recesses of family traumas, and the plight of personal demons. Taking linguistic, structural, and expressive risks, this book is necessary “to survive this nightmare so American.”” — Rigoberto Gonzalez, NBC News
- “… Villarreal interlocks her story with that of other Latin@s who have already survived, or are still working through the pain of what Anzaldúa called the herida abierta, the open wound of the border. Correctly applied, Villarreal suggests by example, a red-hot poetry can cauterize such wounds.” — Cassandra Cleghorn, Los Angeles Review of Books
- “Villarreal’s poems carefully and boldly draw wider horizons for this body, inventing a new space where daughters, particularly daughters of diaspora, can be spectral cosmology, rather than digestible stereotype or silent victim. Melancholia, grief, the spectacular violence of living within a society that hunts and tames non-white women, destroys but also creates new meanings … Somehow her poems gesture that for us daughters of immigrants, part beast, part estrella, there still exists an elsewhere, a radiating solar system, yet to be broken and conquered.” — Zaina Alsous, The Miami Rail
- “I find Beast Meridian, Vanessa Angélica Villarreal’s debut collection of poems, to be an essential and silence-shattering book. Via her own life and blood, Villarreal takes readers on a creative exploration of social justice, feminism, race, and identity. All the while, she proves herself to be a poet who’s unafraid to share all the things she’s been holding in her heart: photos, fragments, documents, memories, recurring images, and scars.” — Norene Cashen, The Collagist
- “In Beast Meridian, Vanessa Angélica Villarreal redraws the contours of an imperialist history through the figures and stories generated by an ancestral bestiary. Beasts here become a method of countering the dehumanizing tactics of settler colonialism, which are reinscribed daily on the bodies of those who must confront the “widening line that splits your body in halves … that which separates you from home / you from history.” Even if one were to reunite these halves, the result would not be a wholeness that has healed its trauma, but a body marked by it. A body one might call a beast. […] The beast, then, is not a singular figure but a constellation born from the lines written over and over again to “repair the seams between worlds along its meridians.” The beast is a set of relations, a kinship that cannot be reified but known only by the movement across and between bodies and places.” — Kristin George Bagdanov, Jacket2
- “I’m not going to say this work is ‘necessary,’ as I’ve always thought that was an underhanded compliment, how you’d describe bitter medicine. This book is good. Great. Amazing. Maverick. Beast Meridian isn’t afraid to be vulnerable, angry, hopeful, loving, experimental, dense, mythic, academic, Latinx, feminist, weak, strong, anti-institutional, sentimental, cross disciplinary, playful, estranged, concrete, fluid, etc. It’s all of those things at once. The book doesn’t end on a note of victory per se, but the poems’ and Villarreal’s willingness to experiment is what keeps Beast Meridian from being a tragedy. This is more than poetry. The book is a person, despite what’s happening in America. That’s victory.” — Reyes Ramirez, Glass: A Journal of Poetry
- “Beast Meridian is a collection crucial to the landscape of contemporary poetry in the United States. In Angels of the Americlypse: An Anthology of New Latin@ Writing, editors Carmen Gimenez-Smith and John Chavez write in their introduction: “Rather than sit at our drafting tables as aesthetic innovators, we Latinos are expected to normalize our histories and tell the ancestral tales of our colorful otherness.” The force of Villarreal’s collection is that it does both. It recounts without false honor. It innovates form in surprising ways that feel ethical to the brown body. It does not assimilate (to whiteness or to internalized whiteness disguised in cultural expectations & respectability). Beast Meridian is challenging because the complex is challenging. It is hard to reconcile our bodies and lives with history and our failure to acknowledge this wide tangle we are all caught in. What Villarreal does is turn this complexity into a tangible landscape to navigate. Here the path is treacherous, but the ground is solid—the way forward as necessary as it is difficult.” — Sara Borjas, Connotation Press
- “Beast Meridian introduces us to a wildly inventive voice in Latinx literature. In her first full-length collection, Vanessa Angélica Villarreal confounds and delights with poems that are challenging, experimental, and deeply engrossing.” — Rodney Gomez, Latino Book Review
- “With daring invention and re-invention of forms, Sealey [Ordinary Beast] and Villarreal confront the historical and everyday enactments of violence upon racialized, queer, and female bodies, as well as the accumulative effects of trauma, made strikingly visceral.” — Rosa Alcalá, NBC News
- “Rigoberto González recommends his two favorite books of 2017,” Los Angeles Times
- “We need more writers with dirty, unashamed mouths at the moment … This narrative of one brown grrl’s survival in the face a harsh, harsh world doesn’t deign to negotiate; it sneers and schemes …” — John Pleucker, BOMB Magazine
- “Vanessa Angélica Villarreal’s Beast Meridian … is a haunting, a heartbreak. Beast Meridian turns trauma into astounding mythology, pushing through loss and erasure to find what it means to be a woman, to be lost, to find yourself anyway.” — Soraya Membreno, BITCH Magazine