Winner of 2016 Kore Press First Book Award, selected by Robin Coste Lewis
Trailer Trash is a book about the cotton-country of Riverside County, Southern California, in1980s/90s. A book about poverty, ravaged landscape, and gender, it touches on a fuller, dustier California than Hollywood would have you believe. It is not only a book of class and struggle, it is also a book of triumph, beauty, and constructed worlds. It interfaces with grief and sanctuary in equal measure, creating a deeper understanding of origin stories. Never be ashamed of where you come from, these poems say, even when where you come from is broken, and dry, and made of tin.
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Praise for Trailer Trash
2016 Kore Press First Book Award Judge, Robin Coste Lewis:
“When I read the title of this collection, I’ll admit it: I didn’t want to read it. I thought––obnoxiously––that I knew what I would find before turning its first page: cute, pink poems about poverty––which is to say, a style of writing I wanted to avoid completely. I was wholly unprepared for the exceptional skill and aesthetic courage I encountered when I opened the book, skill and courage that remained from the first line to the last. It is so much easier to perform rather than to be honest. You can offer the world a mask, then walk away, pretending to be somewhere, someone. This is especially true when one is poor, or a woman. But from beginning to end, these poems about both are neither cute, nor nice. They are strong, quiet, new, unapologetic, even ruthless in their refusal to play any role, including “girl” or “poor.” Which is to say, July Westhale constantly creates wholly unfamiliar constructions that run back and forth between that pole of both exquisite and horrifying with courageous agility. Evoking the language of myth, history, sociology, Westhale takes a sign as overused as “trailer trash” and utterly destroys that myth (or is it nightmare?) completely. Furthermore, she refuses to look away from the true complexity of gender and poverty, or more specifically, what it actually means to grow up both poor and girl. It isn’t new––class analysis––of course not. Indeed, one could argue that class is precisely what women within patriarchy write. What else could we write, century after century, when it took us so long to own property or even vote? That’s called a tradition. But what’s exciting for me is I know this collection, “Trailer Trash,” will take its rightful place within this exquisite history. What’s even more thrilling, however, is the awareness that this voice is completely distinct, these narratives, this terrain belong only to the narrators who tell them. And that’s something that one can never force, nor fake. Indeed, perhaps the greatest gifts of this collection is that it does not run from the complexities of class and gender, nor the Athenian feat of locating unpretentious, deeply psychological lyric to render them.”
—Robin Coste Lewis, National Book Award winner for Voyage of the Sable Venus.
“Grief is a staggering weight, but certain persons carry it with a style of swagger. As vulnerable as it is tough, Trailer Trash swaggers through a childhood of loss, poverty, and rural isolation to stand before us and make a singular music: “Amazing Grace Played on a Common Saw.” A common saw can cut deep; a common saw can help you build. But in the hands of July Westhale, it indeed fashions an amazing grace out of both grievous injury and its long aftermath. From an agricultural landscape that “rises in welts,” from a people “earnest/in our destruction,” these poems arrive as hymns to survival, hymns whose lyrics refuse the erasure of working class lives from the memorable and consoling music only poetry can make.”
—Brian Teare, author of The Empty Form Goes All the Way to Heaven
“The searing poems in Trailer Trash explode like flares, illuminating glimpses of a harsh landscape. A tomato is “sliced thick and vicous…menses on Irish thighs,” a mother brings home a pregnant jackrabbit caught in a trap to slit its belly, “knowing/ the body to be a stasis and the desert a hell,/ and the knife the only bridge between the two.” And yet the girl-woman at the center of the poems finds strategies for keeping hope alive. But the speaker does more than survive.. The heart of this book, perhaps surprisingly, is the tremendous love that comes through for the people and places, and that transforms “something familiar but annihilating” into its opposite by the end: “the good hymnal feeling of nothing new.”
—Sharon Bryan, author of “Sharp Stars”
Excerpt from Trailer Trash
When I woke up, I couldn’t tell which of my sisters I’d become.
We smelled of eggs, and I broke us by leaving the trailer.
If you can, pretend the alfalfa field is the Celestial City.
A man, surely a prophet, walks his dog in a pilling robe.
He is the color of sky. His dog carries the truth in its leg.
The truth is a hard knot, difficult to rub out.
The planes, by now, have come and left us a magic trail.
The trail is a beanstalk to the Lord, and we must have faith.
Our water browns after the Lord’s planes come, but we are faithful.
If I had to guess, I’d say John the Baptist. He’d have baptized
a sick dog. He’d have believed a sick dog could find the beanstalk.
Every morning, the air is as thick as syrup from a pitcher.
It is quiet, sliced up, and ready to digest, like a hymn.
The hymnal of the morning moves North, to Eagle Mountain.
Our melon fields have been blessed by the Lord.
We and our canals are filth waiting to be turned to loaves.
from Trailer Trash copyright July Westhale