Selected by Ross Gay as winner of the inaugural Jake Adam York Prize, Analicia Sotelo’s debut collection of poems is a vivid portrait of the artist as a young woman.
In Virgin, Sotelo walks the line between autobiography and mythmaking, offering up identities like dishes at a feast. These poems devour and complicate tropes of femininity—of naiveté, of careless abandon—before sharply exploring the intelligence and fortitude of women, how “far & wide, / how dark & deep / this frigid female mind can go.” A schoolgirl hopelessly in love. A daughter abandoned by her father. A seeming innocent in a cherry-red cardigan, lurking at the margins of a Texas barbeque. A contemporary Ariadne with her monstrous Theseus. A writer with a penchant for metaphor and a character who thwarts her own best efforts. “A Mexican American fascinator.”
At every step, Sotelo’s poems seduce with history, folklore, and sensory detail—grilled meat, golden habañeros, and burnt sugar—before delivering clear-eyed and eviscerating insights into power, deceit, relationships, and ourselves. Here is what it means to love someone without truly understanding them. Here is what it means to be cruel. And here is what it means to become an artist, of words and of the self.
Blistering and gorgeous, Virgin is an audacious act of imaginative self-mythology from one of our most promising young poets.
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Praise and Prizes
“‘We’re all performing our bruises,’ says a speaker in Analicia Sotelo’s brilliant book, Virgin, and that’s exactly the kind of precise and wise and not-a-little-bit-hurting observations this book is made of. I suppose this book, too, then, is a performance of a kind of bruise, or bruising. But what I love is how, by leaning into the many registers of heartbreak, Sotelo makes something incredibly beautiful. Something that, in its beauty, is a kind of salve.”
“‘Now I have three heads: one for speech, one for sex, / and one for second guessing’ the poet says at the end of ‘South Texas Persephone.’ It is that triad speech, sex, and uncertainty that Analicia Sotelo intensely explores in poems with emotional depth, humor and anguish throughout Virgin. She is a gifted writer and this debut collection brings us a poet self-aware, intensely observant of visual culture and social dynamics, knowledgeable about myth and process with a great understanding of craft—she knows when couplets are required and why ‘My Father Lost in a Game of Chess’ could only be a prose poem. Virgin makes you look again at the power of the feminine and the necessity for feminism.”
“Sometimes when we wrestle with the big questions we sacrifice humor and style. Not so with Sotelo. From her cold open onward, she burns—with sly wit, indignity, and sonic panache. ‘Do You Speak Virgin?’ asks the preface poem. And of course we do—or did, at some point—but this rhetorical question, and by extension this entire collection, will particularly resonate with women, for whom the question of virginity is particularly and historically fraught. Deliriously ruthless in its interrogation of the religious and sexual dynamics that shape us, Virgin is like a Victorian wedding gown beaded with canonical plunder and deconstructed by Frida Kahlo. Don't take your eyes off it.”
“In knowing intonations, the poems in Analicia Sotelo’s Virgin betray those little fables that underpin the family dynamic and the duplicities that masquerade as decorum in society. ‘I am a Mexican American fascinator,’ affirms this latter-day Ariadne who indulges, declines, and so abides as to transform the ceremonies of stranger and lover alike into the knowledge of hidden causes. These sly parables relate the length a “female mind can go” to render acuity with charm in the face of disapproval or indifference: ‘Now I have three heads: one / for speech, one for sex, / and one for second guessing.’”
“Steeped in memory, legend, and dream, Analicia Sotelo’s Virgin is a wildly brilliant book. In it, we follow the loves and lonelinesses of a ‘Mexican-American fascinator,’ who views the world around her with wit, candor, eloquence and pain. Here family history, parable, and Greek myth combine into stories that are at once prismatic and moving. The everyday merges with the cosmic in poems that, for all their daring, feel intimate and personal. A master of character and voice, Analicia Sotelo is a poet of enormous skill, and her first book is a pure pleasure.”
“These poems shape an expansive imaginative landscape that becomes fortified by Sotelo's use of myth, folklore, art, and personal history. Her speaker is that unforgettable young woman we have all been waiting for: she who dares to inhabit a story worthy of her brilliance and splendor.”