July Westhale (’13) is the author of Trailer Trash (winner of the 2016 Kore Press Book Award), The Cavalcade, and Occasionally Accurate Science. Her most recent poetry can be found in The National Poetry Review, Prairie Schooner, CALYX, Tupelo Quarterly, RHINO, phoebe, Eleven Eleven, Lunch Ticket, and Quarterly West. Her essays have been nominated for Best American Essays, as well as the Pushcart prize. She moonlights as a journalist at The Establishment, and has appeared in The Huffington Post. www.julywesthale.com
The Body Politic
by July Westhale
I see this discussion as two separate threads—politics, and agenda. I myself maintain that all art is political, and that it cannot exist in a vacuum. This is true of every form of it I’ve encountered—from writing to sculpture to animation to graffiti to tattoos. And while it’s true that writing cannot exist without politics, it is also true that it can exist without an agenda.
Everything we think about is informed by the world around us (even our dreams have inner landscapes informed by realities from the waking world), which is informed by the ever-shifting existential crisis of being a human. Once, in a workshop with Nikky Finney, we were asked to create three separate timelines, spanning from the year we were born to the present day. Timeline #1 was our own narrative—in such and such year, I lost my first tooth. In such and such year, I married. And so on. Timeline #2 was a municipal/national gamut—in 1993, Bill Clinton became president. In 2001, 9/11 happened. Timeline #3 contained a global line—Chernobyl in 1986, the dismantling of the South African apartheid in 1991.
When we’d constructed these timelines, we were asked to draw connections between them all. Which is how I remembered that the year Princess Diana died (in fact, the day she died), I’d won a spoons tournament against my best friend and her family. My glory at winning was interrupted by the devastation of this most surprising news, the subsequent whodunit. To this day, I am still a quick and boastful winner, worried about stolen glory. To this day, I make associations between death and the luck of cards.