published by Kore Press, 2020
“Via Negativa,” often used to talk about the divine: a way of describing what something is by describing what it is not, is a book about the more difficult, but truer, ways of talking about the ecstatic world. Half grappling with divinity and the many manifestations of gender/the self , and half an ars poetica, Via Negativa is a gorgeous holy dunking, a submersion into a rich field of lyricism and emotion, a mikva that yearns to leave the reader clear-eyed and bright. Diving into verbal lostness, the hatred of poetry, mythology, and the epistemology of identity, this book challenges the tripartite notion of holiness and its relationship to poetic duty.
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PRAISE FOR VIA NEGATIVA
In this stunning work, Westhale (Trailer Trash) interrogates the vocabulary used to speak about desire, the divine, and literature. Presented as a series of linked lyric pieces, the book spans a range of forms, including lyric fragments, single strophes, and prose poems, gracefully unified by an ongoing concern with the damage done by language, as well as its redemptive potential. “I am not a star. I am not a star. I am a mechanical. I mean, her. I mean. Dear god,” she writes in “SAINT AGATHA: PATRON SAINT OF BELL FOUNDERS, WET NURSES, RAPE VICTIMS, BREAST CANCER SURVIVORS, AND SICILY.” With subtlety and skill, Westhale reminds the reader that sensory experience is irrevocably changed once it is relayed in language. The provocative poems are frequently voiced by visionary speakers: “Broken like a double-yolk/ in a skillet, I have found/ vision, o lord, I your weary/ chef coming off the graveyard/ shift.” Here, the poem reads as a corrective gesture, an attempt to restore mystery to our lives through language. Westhale delivers a book full of mystery, beauty, and possibility. (June)
Via Negativa named one of the most anticipated queer books of June 2020: "I am heartened to see a cadre of new LGBTQ books that are offering readers necessary historical perspective, righteous anger, and much needed humanity. "— William Johnson, Deputy Director of the Lambda Literary Foundation
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"Like many kids who were weirdos/had brutal childhoods, books became the portals through which I escaped into lands that made sense: lands of orphans, of anthropomorphism, of a tally-system for good and evil, in which the unseen good deeds of people were rewarded with karmic riches beyond their wildest imagination. I remember saving bugs from roadways for this reason. I remember believing that having a rough childhood meant that I was due some sort of metaphorical pot of gold. All books of a certain time, children’s books or otherwise, reinforce that infrastructural concept."
"July Westhale remains a poet of the highest order and ‘Via Negativa’ is an exquisite, spellbinding achievement."
—Diriye Osman, author of Fairytales for Lost Children
"I love the surprise of these meditations on creation – how joy rises up inside “flesh-failings;” how desire continually creates a “a vow of silence but a throat of song.” This is the deity I’ve wanted to know: one of “plural-silence." And how thankful I am to have found July Westhale's Via Negativa, a fellow seeker, in language I love: "all/engorged, all surrendering.” I am ever grateful to her for creating the queer-poem-church we’ve needed inside a 'sentence small, eternal, hushed.' "
—TC Tolbert, author of Turning to Hear the Last Leaves of Stargazer Fall
—Diana Whitney, author of Wanting It
"When catapulted, flying free, you know it is poetry! July Westhale's "Ars Poetica" will renew your idea of how a poem stands in midair with the lush brilliance, where yes, dodgeball and love align forces! I want this collection in our lives! Westhale beautifully recalibrates our understanding of a footnote as only a poet could reimagine!"
—CAConrad, author of While Standing in Line for Death
"Here are July Westhale’s new poems: where death smells like "waterlogged Pall Malls"; where a “freshly laundered” pickup truck idles outside the window; where a ravished young woman tramps to the kitchen in her “birthday body,” opens “the vault of the refrigerator” and rests her head on “the cool rationale of a cantaloupe.” These poems are dizzying, erotic, fiercely intelligent, and, in the best ways, many-minded. Via Negativa is a book by one of our finest young poets, fully present in the world, attuned to the dark mysteries of language and insight." —Kevin Prufer, author of Churches