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Beastgirl & Other Origin Myths

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Beastgirl & Other Origin Myths is a collection of folkloric poems centered on the historical, mythological, gendered and geographic experiences of a first generation American woman. From the border in the Dominican Republic, to the bustling streets of New York City, Acevedo considers how some bodies must walk through the world as beastly beings. How these forgotten myths be both blessing and birthright.

Finalist, Vinyl 45 Chapbook Contest, 2015
Honorable Mention, The Eric Hoffer Chapbook Award, 2017

42 pages, Paperback

First published October 15, 2016

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About the author

Elizabeth Acevedo

21 books16.5k followers
ELIZABETH ACEVEDO is a New York Times bestselling author of The Poet X, With the Fire on High, and Clap When You Land. Her critically-acclaimed debut novel, The Poet X, won the 2018 National Book Award for Young People’s Literature. She is also the recipient of the Printz Award for Excellence in Young Adult Fiction, the CILIP Carnegie Medal, and the Boston Globe-Hornbook Award. Additionally, she was honored with the 2019 Pure Belpré Author Award for celebrating, affirming, and portraying Latinx culture and experience.

Her books include, Beastgirl & Other Origin Myths (YesYes 2016), The Poet X (HarperCollins, 2018), & With The Fire On High (HarperCollins, 2019), and Clap When You Land (HarperCollins, 2020).

She holds a BA in Performing Arts from The George Washington University and an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Maryland. Acevedo has been a fellow of Cave Canem, Cantomundo, and a participant in the Callaloo Writer’s Workshops. She is a National Poetry Slam Champion, and resides in Washington, DC with her love.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 54 reviews
Profile Image for leynes.
1,118 reviews3,040 followers
February 1, 2021
BOOK REVIEW IS UP ON YT! Go watch it! ;)


Elizabeth Acevedo is one of my favorite writers. She hasn't been established as a writer for all that long (around 5 years now) and so her catalogue of published novels is still small: The Poet X, With the Fire On High and Clap When You Land. However, she has been around as a poet and spoken word artist for literal decades now.

And even when reading her novel or her novels in verse it become clear that Elizabeth Acevedo is deeply rooted in lyricism and poetry. This woman has such a way with words, and she has honed her craft for so long that she almost never misses.

I've been aware of her first poetry collection, Beastgirl & Other Origin Myths (2016), which was published by YesYesBooks as a small chapbook of 32 pages, for quite some time now. However, at least in Germany, it has been out of print for almost two years and I was never able to acquire my own copy. Luckily, in December, some books were restocked and I immediately snatched one up.

When reviewing her YA novels, I always said that I wished that Acevedo would go back to writing (and publishing) traditional poetry. She has been working on her first full collection (with the working title Medusa Reads La Negra's Palm) for many many years now, but somehow she hasn't been satisfied yet, so that the release keeps getting pushed back. The day that collection drops ... chile, catch me first in line at my local bookshop!

In the meantime, I was more than happy to read through Beastgirl & Other Origin Myths and try to dissect this collection. Personally, I don't think I'm the most fit to properly analyse these poems because a lot of them are rooted in Dominican folklore and culture, two topics I'm unfamiliar with and had to read up online. I'm going to do my best here but feel free to check out own voices reviews for this collection as well. There are just some insights that I cannot give you.

When asked to describe this collection, Acevedo stated that it's about "Women. Blackness. The Caribbean. Indigenous warrior queens. Harlem. Violence. Superstitions. Rats. Trains." That's definitely one way to describe it. When looking at the themes and protagonists of her poems, one definitely recognizes what Acevedo has described.

On a deeper level, Beastgirl & Other Origin Myths is about myths—myths that Elizabeth Acevedo has been told growing up, origin myths, and all the myths told about "negras" (beastgirls) like her. So, it isn't all that surprising that this collections offers a wide array of themes. Sometimes, I felt like she was jumping around from topic to topic too much and I felt like the collection lacked a sort of leitmotif, but looking at it through the lens of myths, it definitely becomes easier tying all these loose ends together.

At a literature festival, Acevedo explains why she views "negras" as "beastgirls". As a Black woman of Latin American descent living in the US, she feels like a hybrid creature of multiple cultures. Therefore, through her poetry and through using the "beastgirl" as a character in it, Acevedo tries to show the connection between mythology and the legends we make of the present day.

The first poem in the collection, "La Ciguapa", opens up the question of what it means to forget your folklore and the myths that have guided the creation of your culture. Acevedo says that, in her case, she was mainly referring to "the many stories that have informed the Dominican Republic as it created a national and cultural identity." With her poems, she travels through time to explore how the myth we make of ourselves is crafted from the origin stories of the places that raised us.
Her backwards-facing feet were no mistake, they say,
she was never meant to be found, followed—
an unseeable creature of crane legs, saltwater crocodile scales,
long break of a parrot no music sings forth from.
I was unfamiliar with the creature of "La Ciguapa" but apparently she is a mythological creature of Dominican folklore who takes the bodily form of a woman with brown or dark blue skin with backward-facing feet. You shouldn't look her in the eye, as she, similarly to a siren, tries to lure men to their death. In the poem, Acevedo asks "Who tells her story anymore?", reminding us of the many myths and stories (that form our cultural identity) that have been lost and forgotten about. It is a plea for remembrance.

Other poems in the collection speak about Dominican superstitions, witches, Dominican dictators, but also more intimate and personal stories/ myths as her conversations with her mother about home, sexual harassment at the workplace and in everyday life ["Pretend the girl inside me / isn’t just a small roach / always waiting for a broom to fall."], the first time she got her period and the implications of masturbation when one is growing up in a very strict Christian household.

I had a hard time connecting to a lot of her poems. I usually liked their concept (the idea behind them) but found the execution lacking. On the one hand, I can appreciate that Acevedo often used Spanish sentences in her poems that remained untranslated, as well as referring to specific events in Dominican history without explaining them to the reader, because it showed that she is not trying to adhere to a standard of Western storytelling. But on the other hand, it made it harder for me (who was unfamiliar with a lot of the events, creatures and real people she was referring to) to truly immerse myself in her poetry.

Don't get me wrong, I really enjoyed researching and looking up what everything meant. But when it comes to the actual "in the moment" enjoyment of reading through these poems, it definitely took a hit.

Out of the 21 poems features in this collection, my favorites were "Conversations", "It Almost Curdles My Womb Dry" and "La Santa Maria. In the first one, Acevedo imagines her conversations with her mother about the Dominican Republic. The poem shows her complicated relationship to the place she so desperately wants to call home, or feel at home at.
I convinced myself silence was strength.
Won’t feed from her fingers
the hardened aches she offers.
I fold into two walls, hide from her hands.
Peel my ear when she reminds me
daughters are meant to veil themselves behind the skirt
of their mothers. When are you going to visit?
I don’t tell her this is why I left.
I like the honesty of the poem, and I can imagine that lots of immigrants can relate to her words.

The most memorable poem in the collection, "It Almost Curdles My Womb Dry" (later revised as "Spear"), follows a mother in the aftermath of her daughter’s sexual assault. Acevedo began writing the poem while on a trip to South Africa around the time that Amanda Berry and her six-year-old daughter escaped from the home where Ariel Castro had held them and two other women for more than 10 years, leading to his arrest.

Acevedo said that the incident made her think about the role of mothers in the recovery process of assault survivors. In particular, the poem is "a direct response [to] the fear of one day being the mother to a young woman and feeling like I cannot trust this world with her."
I hold all the smiles of my daughter.
Tipped up to the milk of this promise:
she will not walk hunched.
Forced to turn herself into a corner.
Taught her body it is a place to huddle.
She will not smile polite as men make war on her.
In the poem, Acevedo transforms the body of the girl into a weapon against abuse ["She will be carved from hard rock. / Sharpened –Shrapnel – A spearhead / Her whole body ready to fling itself / and arrow the hadn't of the first man / who tries to cover her mouth."] It is an incredibly powerful poem that sent a chill down my spine.

The imagery of imagining the trauma and hardships that your still unborn (potential future) children might/ will go through is a thread that weaves itself through multiple poems. In "Beloved", she speaks of the moment when she and her husband let some black beans and white rice burn in the kitchen, after hearing of yet another verdict where a person was acquitted after killing an unarmed Black boy. She writes: "we say silent grace over plain white rice. / and i wonder if you, like me, pray for an unborn child / we’ve already imagined shot in the chest."

Like I hinted earlier in the review, some of the poems refer to real historical events, e.g. "Februar 10th, 2015", a poem in memory of Tulile, a Haitian shoe-shiner, who was found dead (hanging from a tree) in a public square in Santiago. The lynching was blamed on a group of Dominican nationalists who had called for the deportation of Haitians living in the Dominican Republic.
it never ends here—does it, ti cheri? The bodies hanging from silk trees.
Another such poem is "La Santa Maria", which refers to the largest ship that Christopher Columbus used during his first voyage across the Atlantic Ocean in 1492. Something that I didn't know was that on December 25, 1492, the Santa Maria ran into a sandbar off Hispañola, the island with the present-day states of Haiti and the Dominican Republic. The ship could not be saved and its wood was used to build the first Spanish settlement on American soil, La Navidad, where Columbus left about 30 to 35 of his people. In 2014, it was published that a wreck had been found in 2003 off the coast of Haiti that was said to be the remains of the Santa Maria.

Acevedo doesn't provide that context in the poem but it essential to know all of these facts if you want to understand what she is referring to when she writes: "Leave that bitch at the bottom", "We don’t need any more museums of white men. / Leave something for our black dead to play in." or "Sell no tickets for this / bringer / of apocalypses … but if, when you pull her up, you want to make a bonfire, / I’ve got matches." It's a poem that makes you snap your fingers and start (internally) screaming YAAAAS!

Another poem that references back to Dominican history is "La Ultima Cacique", a poem honouring Anacoana. Before the arrival of Christopher Columbus in 1492 in Hispañola, Anacoana was part of a family of chiefs that ruled one of the five kingdoms of Hispañola. She succeeded her brother Bohechio as chief of the Xaragua after his death. Under her rule, the Spaniard settlers and Xaragua people coexisted and intermarried. However, in 1503, during his visit to Xaragua, governor of the island Nicolas Ovando suspected an insurrection and gave the order for the chiefs to captured and burned, Anacaona, the sole woman, was the only one arrested and hanged.
Who amongst us understands the need
of a white man’s anger?
They burned her people alive.
Gifted her a collar of rope,
cheered as her fingers scraped
at her throat for air.

It was a hot day. It always
is on the Island. Her toes made wind
as she swung, then grooves in the sand
as she was lowered and a world ended
and a new one cracked open:
swallowed us all.
It's a haunting poem that traces back not only Anacoana's history and fate, but also the fatal step of European colonization of the Americas. After researching that particular part of Dominican history, it was a joy going back to that particular poem and finding all the references.

In an interview, she has said that the poem "Brother Myth" is a misfit: "It fits because it’s still a play at the myth, but it’s part of a longer sequences that touches on my brother’s mental illness. Within the chapbook is stands alone and I don’t think the poems around it serve to help "Brother Myth" resonate in the way it does when in conversation with the other brother poems. In retrospect, if I could pull one out it would be that one…but who knows. Maybe my subconscious saw something there when I was ordering that I can’t see right now." I found that very interesting because for me, "Brother Myth" was one of the weaker poems in the collection and I was wondering what its purpose was.

So, overall, Beastgirl & Other Origin Myths is a fascinating poetry collection that I will probably enjoy a lot more the second time around. There were so many references that I didn't get when first reading it (which is fine! I don't need Elizabeth Acevedo serving me everything on a silver platter, Google exists!), so that I'm sure that I'll have a much better (and easier) time during a reread.
Profile Image for Scarllet ✦ iamlitandwit.
142 reviews91 followers
October 13, 2019
For superstitions: treat them like salt, scatter them before you leave
and let them impale themselves into the soles of your feet.
This chapbook was so different from The Poet X and just as beautiful. It was such a quick read but it packed a punch, I'd say my absolute top favorite of the collection has to be Conversations because of the way she displayed mother/daughter relationships in Dominican culture so damn well. Elizabeth Acevedo has this way with language that is otherworldly yet so utterly easy to relate to since this collection is sprinkled with the ghosts of Dominican culture and with mythology.
Profile Image for Robin.
792 reviews3 followers
December 21, 2016
I absolutely loved the combination of origin stories and modern, personal stories. What a beautiful collection.
Profile Image for Thistle & Verse.
299 reviews78 followers
June 10, 2021
Poetry's good. Most of the poems are about everyday stuff, which isn't my preference (I tend to prefer poetry that's more abstract). Misogyny and Dominican history are recurring topics. Favorite poems were La Ciguapa and For the Poet Who Told Me Rats Aren't Noble Enough Creatures for a Poem.
Profile Image for Elyse.
2,602 reviews127 followers
March 1, 2021
3.5 stars.

This was a unique poetry collection. First, the font size was miniscule! I would've appreciated a bigger font. lol. And this is a tiny poetry collection. $12 is a lot for 42 pages. But I bought from my local independent bookstore so it's all good. I liked some of the poems, some I didn't, and some I just plain didn't get. lol. But it was a quick read.
Profile Image for Sunny.
212 reviews28 followers
August 17, 2023
Try to read this little book of poetry and not feel something. You’ll meet your ancestors, see them struggle, love, thrive, dream and twirl in the darkest light. Though this book may be tiny, she is mighty and worthy of read after read.
136 reviews
May 2, 2021
I honestly can't find the words to describe how much I loved these poems. This collection is incredible.
Profile Image for Venessia.
284 reviews14 followers
April 29, 2019
"La Negra is a beastgirl. From forehead to heel callused. Risen on an island made of shit bricks, an empire."

I know a lot of people praised The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo. Check out her poetry book Beastgirl as well. It was only 30 pages but the poems are an amazing take on Dominican culture with a splash of folklore/mythology.

9 reviews
May 30, 2017
Elizabeth Acevedo,

Beastgirl by Elizabeth Acevedo is a phenomenal poetry book. This book is more about real world problems and things that people do that are shameful the reality of the world.

I personally did not understand all of the poems I think that the concepts were more for adults than for children. The poems imagery was really good and that made me understand more of what was going on in each poem. The poems weren’t all part of the same story they were almost completely different however the idea of reality was with all of them.

You can tell how much of Elizabeth Acevedo is in her poems because she is a strong and amazing person along with her poems. Since I have met Elizabeth I think that this makes me understand more the personality of the poem, how she writes how she reacts to what people have done. I think that to understand these poems more, and to read the full potential of each of the poems I will have to go back and read it again when I am older.

This book reminds of a book called The Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula Le Guin. It reminds me of that book because it was recommended to me by my mother when I was younger and I started to read it, however I didn’t understand much of what was going on and the language was a little too hard for me. Beastgirl, in my opinion is not the right kind of book for me, yet, because I still don’t understand all the poems without someone needing to explain to me what was going on. However I think it is a book well worth reading again to understand better. I would definitely recommend this book to anyone over the age of 12 or to anyone who is willing to take the challenge.
Profile Image for Amanda.
245 reviews21 followers
May 13, 2019
I appreciated Beastgirl for what it was, even though my expectations of what it would be were different. I initially anticipated Acevedo making more blatant use of Dominican folklore and legend, but upon reflection, can see that even if she didn't directly recount those tales, the ghosts and enduring presence of them are ones she wove into the poems about her own life experiences. It was also interesting to see how some of these poems ("Conversations," "Pressing," "It Almost Curdles My Dry Womb," "Liminalities") became the foundation for themes to be found in The Poet X. I'm curious to see if any will also make an appearance in With the Fire on High. Favorites: "Mami Came to This Country as a Nanny," "Beloved," and "La Ultima Cacique."

Favorite lines and passages:
"I've learned to chew magic like it was cassava." ("Salt," pg.7)

"and around the same time she tells me i can't walk
the house wearing only panties anymore,
she teaches me how to hand wash them in the sink.
tsking that washing machines
don't launder as well as a good knuckling,
she drops soap on the crotch, folds the fabric
on itself and shows me how one end
pulls out the stains of the other-
detergent and fabric and hands against hands
make the seemingly almost dirty material clean again[...]
this turning of the shower rod into a garland of intimates-..." ("Mami Came to This Country as a Nanny," pg.13)

"cubans call this meal moros y cristianos
the black beans and white rice cooked harmoniously.
today I'm convinced the cuban who named it that was being overly optimistic." ("Beloved," pg.15)

"tonight, no music plays and for the first time since i
learned to cook i understand
a meal can be a eulogy of mouthfuls...
some things deserve to be smudged.
remembered." ("Beloved," pg.15)
Profile Image for Amy Layton.
1,641 reviews57 followers
February 19, 2019
An incredible book!  Each poem was rife with amazing description and themes that felt personal and culturally informed.  It was beautiful, to experience these poems, and to be able to gain more insight into Acevedo's mind and how it works.  My favorite poem was the one about Dominican superstitions and how they differ from American superstitions.  This is a fantastic compilation of poetry, and if you liked The Poet X, you absolutely cannot miss out on this.

Review cross-listed here!
Profile Image for Caylie Ratzlaff.
560 reviews33 followers
March 15, 2021
This is only 35 pages but I am always amazed by Acevedo’s words and the stories she crafts. These poems aren’t precisely meant for me, as they’re rooted in Afro-Latina and Dominican roots, but the way with words is BEAUTIFUL. These are also more serious and mature than her YA verses, but they pack the same lunch.

Did I spend like $10 for 35 pages of Acevedo’s first chapbook? Yes. Do I regret it? No.
Profile Image for Zach Carter.
142 reviews74 followers
August 19, 2021
Really great collection of poems on Dominican identity and culture, race, and womanhood.
Profile Image for Kelsey  May.
154 reviews19 followers
September 5, 2017
This 32-page edition from YesYes Books‘ Vinyl 45 Series is a quick read but demands an almost-immediate re-read, with many lingering tales of superstitions and personal anecdotes. Many pieces paint a beautiful homage to Acevedo’s Dominican ancestry and cultural traditions, with a little imagination sprinkled in. Poems that explore Trujillo, La Ciguapa, and brujeria mingle with pieces that take on a more personal note, from her family’s immigration to her own body. One of my favorite themes of Beastgirl & Other Origin Myths was that of her family, who appear in political poems, mythological poems, and personal musings. Her mother, especially, shows up numerous times, whether to tell a bedtime story or show the poet how handwashing one’s delicates results in a superior cleaning.

Read my full review at https://hyypeonline.com/2017/09/04/be...
227 reviews6 followers
April 29, 2019
I had the pleasure of hearing Acevedo read her work in Detroit the other night and immediately wanted to hear more. "Beastgirl" has such a distinct, accessible (but not "easy") voice. Almost every poem has a moment of real surprise, and there are a few shocks too. Acevedo beautifully integrates Dominican tradition into much of "Beastgirl," while also telling contemporary stories that feel new and immediate. Hoping to read even more of her work--including a forthcoming (soon, I understand) collection.
Profile Image for Alina.
282 reviews23 followers
February 3, 2021
So fantastic, again Acevedo writing on identity, family,womanhood, race is so relatable to me and she writes so clearly and beautifully. Also by doing further research on some of the topics some poems are written about I learned some really important historical events regarding Haitian, Spanish history which made those poems even more impactful.

My favorites:
- Conversations
- It Almost Curdles My Womb Dry
- Mami Came To This Country as a Nanny
- Liminalities
- Beloved (for Jordan Davis)
- Pareja
- Dominican Superstitions
- La Santa Maria (for Hispaniola)
- La Ultimate Cacique
Profile Image for Gabby.
155 reviews
January 4, 2022
I have loved every book I've read by Elizabeth Acevedo and was so excited to get my hands on this book. Surprisingly, it wasn't a hit for me. While the first few poems were definitely what I was looking for when it came to origin myths, the ones that followed were increasingly hard for me to visualize. Acevedo had so many descriptive words and phrases but many of them either didn't make sense to me or went over my head. Part of the reason I stopped reading poetry when I was younger was because I felt as if it had become too intellectual or elite for me. It often seemed like everyone appreciated it or understood it but me. That makes the experience less enjoyable. So while I recognize that this is probably great poetry, I don't think it was for me.
Profile Image for Ember Air.
548 reviews13 followers
July 29, 2019
This was very rough, but also very important. I had originally been introduced to this poetry collection with the idea of the anthology being Teen or Young Adult and was therefore very surprised during my reading. I am very glad that this was read before it was put out and was moved to the Adult section, because while it is very moving and important, it is also very, very graphic and sometimes heartbreaking or triggering.
Profile Image for Laura Vultaggio.
393 reviews
March 7, 2021
This is a beautiful, gritty, collection of folkloric poetry outlining the experiences of young women in the Dominican Republic and New York City. This collection rebukes the idea that only certain symbols or topics are worthy of poetry. Acevedo writes about her own experiences growing up in New York and the experiences of her family members growing up in the DR. There are many themes in these poems that are also present in her amazing novels, which I love so very much.
Profile Image for Will.
325 reviews32 followers
December 12, 2017
Elizabeth Acevedo's chapbook is a lovely and encapsulating collection of poems. They are powerful sometimes sweet, sometimes morose. They go back and forth between Dominican folklore and experiences in today's America. I especially admired Acevedo's reflections on Afrolatinx identity. My favorite poems were "Beloved" and "For the Poet Who Told Me Rats Aren't Noble Enough Creatures for a Poem."
Profile Image for Nicole Mattingly.
80 reviews2 followers
July 14, 2020
Acevedo again does a phenomenal job with poetry and how enriching it is for the heart and soul. The imagery she creates with each poem is remarkable and necessary. While it’s a quick read, the impact that the words left continue to linger and resonate through the mind and bones. Goosebumps were left from the real stories and emotion felt with each word.
Profile Image for Cait.
1,073 reviews30 followers
December 1, 2020
thank god this was about something. sometimes good poetry makes you think, are other people even trying? and elizabeth acevedo is so fucking good.

Because if anything this body is the pure
holy of instinct

like closing your eyes
and guiding an earring
into long ago pierced flesh.

Sharpened Shrapnel A spearhead
Profile Image for Tweller83.
2,580 reviews8 followers
July 27, 2021
I didn't understand this poetry and thus rating it just on enjoyment, couldn't give it a high rating. I love this author and usually really connect with her stories. This one just wasn't for me. Not sure what I was expecting and I'm sure this is a case of its me not the poetry so if you like poetry and this sounds good, I would recommend you pick it up. Again, just not for me.
Profile Image for Emma Eiram.
315 reviews1 follower
September 20, 2022
“They become more thrust than thought.
Watch them grab wrists and ankles.”

A powerful collection of poems, short and anything but sweet. I love the way Elizabeth Acevedo uses words, both English and Spanish.

”She will not smile polite as men make war on her.
She will be carved from hard rock.”
Profile Image for Crystal.
482 reviews163 followers
November 7, 2017
Worthwhile coming-of-age collection, the highlights being the poem(s) regarding or alluding to rape culture, growing up being Dominican-American, and the rich intermingled poems on Dominican culture, superstitions, and mythologies.
Profile Image for Abbie.
Author 1 book3 followers
March 21, 2018
This is a short but powerful collection reflecting deep into what it means to be Afro-latinx and the experiences that go along with that. I haven’t met a poem by Elizabeth Acevedo that I don’t love and these are no exception.
Profile Image for Mela.
268 reviews28 followers
August 18, 2019
we who have forgotten all our sacred monsters - "la ciguapa"

also la ultima cacique
la sant maria
the dictator's brujas
Dominican superstitions

vivid & searing & debilitating & etc & etc

Profile Image for Gina.
Author 1 book5 followers
September 14, 2019
Short, but containing so many strong poems.

"Beloved" and "For the Poet Who Told Me Rats Aren't Noble Enough Creatures for a Poem" stood out--plus others. "Mami Came to this Country as a Nanny," too.
September 15, 2019
To me, this slim volume reads as though I am examining the beloved journal of Xiomara from The Poet X. The poems shared capture Dominican myths, family traditions, and adolescent truths and makes a great companion for Acevedo’s debut novel.
Displaying 1 - 30 of 54 reviews

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