Today we wrap up highlighting our “local” poets (faculty and alumni). We sent a short set of questions to each, and are posting their responses. Here’s what Felicia Zamora had to say.
Why does poetry matter?
We all search for a means to express the human condition in ways that capture our whole selves, where authenticity, risk, and complexity converge. I can think of no better place of convergence than the art of poetry. I turn to the world-building of poetry. Through words and rhythm and images and thought we come to a point of experience—to experience ourselves, to experience with each other, and experience the world in which we navigate. One might argue we experience through a twice-removed lens, through the page and the words that are never the ‘thing’ itself. But this is about transportation—a microcosm of life in the exquisite sparseness of a poem. In poetry, we create and are being created in simultaneity. I turn to poetry to create myself. I turn to poetry to have a conversation. I turn to poetry as resistance. Poetry has always been an art of activism, of calling constructed narratives into question, of lifting the veil on our society and humanity, of digging deep and showing our hands caked in dirt. This matters.
Why do you write poetry and not some other genre?
Poetry calls to me like no other form of art. Poetry shows the delicacies, powers, failures, extremities, and possibilities of language. Poetry makes me rethink systems, and language too is a system. The art questions itself and this vulnerability draws me to it. I want to be as open as a poem on the page. This openness comes with clutter and fear and subtext and belief and trying—all things in me as well. I want to experience the world as a collective. We are guests in each poem, each moment. What do we share as author and voice and reader? This is how we gather. We gather at the page.
The disobedience of poetry is what makes this my genre. In many ways, the act of writing poetry is political; a statement that one is open to considering and questioning, in search of betterment through wonder.
How did you find poetry?
Let’s say we found each other. My mom wrote children’s books when I was young. Her work, unfortunately, didn’t see a bookshelf, but they were tucked under my arms throughout elementary school. My teachers used to read my mom’s books to class. My mother gifted me writing. It became my art from a young age. I think I was a bit slower to poetry, though, because Shakespeare is what poetry was in the schools. Many tell the same story: lessons centered largely around dead white male poets. In undergrad, I was introduced to poets of color like Langston Hughes, Joy Harjo, and Leslie Marmon Silko to name a few. These authors, and especially women of color, showed me that I could be a poet. By the time I finished my undergraduate degree, I was exclusively writing poetry, but it wasn’t until I started the MFA program at Colorado State University that I called myself a poet. I could only resist so long.
What are you working on now?
I am in infant stages of a new project. The last manuscript I finished in 2017 was more politically charged and upfront about social justice issues than any of my previous work. These considerations continue due to the societal fires raging in our country. We all need voice now more than ever. Only by our voices resounding together will all people be able to love, live, and experience freedom without the devastating weight of oppression. A dominate white-male-cisgender narrative exists. Period. People are dying due to the color of their skin and for who they love. Women are marching all over the world. Listen. See. It is all our responsibilities to stop the atrocities, to tear this narrative apart. On a panel in 2017, poet Joshua Bennett talked about the state of dis-information in the political life of the United States. He said, “Either we are doing the work of making a better world, or we are doing something else.” This idea of “doing something else” haunts me. We must all do this work, making a better world. Here is where I am, so too, my work is here.
What poem, poet, or poetry collection is your favorite?
You know this is an impossible question. I’ll talk about what has set me afire right now. Some books you wait for, but only for a moment. An example of this for me is the book, Don’t Call Us Dead by Danez Smith. Read this book. Everyone. It’s one of the most important books I’ve ever read. In “dear white america” Smith writes, “i’ve left Earth to find a place where my kin can be safe, where black people ain’t but people the same color as the good, wet earth, until that means something, until then i bid you well, i bid you war, i bid you our lives to gamble with no more.” Here, in this powerful epistolary, we hear voice in demonstration of pure necessity. I cried from the anguish. I cried because this is the country I know, and so many willfully turn their heads. The importance of this work gives me hope for humanity, that malice will be revealed, that we are never silenced, that voices will rise, and that as a nation we must stand in the shadows of our horrors and be relentless in our actions to change them.
Other books I’ve recently read include: Tropicalia by Emma Trelles, What the willow said as it fell by Andrea Scarpino, and From the Inside Quietly by Eloisa Amezcua. All three lend to the experiences of what it means to be woman for me. I thank all these poets for their writing. I have been a hungry guest in their words and pages, and they have impacted me for the better.
Felicia Zamora is the author of the books Of Form & Gather, winner of the 2016 Andrés Montoya Poetry Prize (University of Notre Dame Press 2017), & in Open, Marvel (Parlor Press 2017), and Instrument of Gaps (Slope Editions 2018). Of Form & Gather was listed as one of the “9 Outstanding Latino Books Recently Published by Independent and University Presses” by NBC News. She won the 2015 Tomaž Šalamun Prize from Verse, authored two chapbooks, and was the 2017 Poet Laureate for Fort Collins, CO. Her published works may be found or forthcoming in Alaska Quarterly Review, Beloit Poetry Review, Columbia Poetry Review, Crazyhorse, Denver Quarterly, Green Mountain Review, Hotel Amerika, Indiana Review, jubilat, Lana Turner, Meridian, Notre Dame Review, North American Review, OmniVerse, Pleiades, Poetry Daily, Poetry Northwest, Prairie Schooner, Puerto del Sol, Raleigh Review, Sugar House Review, Tarpaulin Sky Magazine, The Adirondack Review, The Cincinnati Review, The Georgia Review, The Michigan Quarterly, TriQuarterly Review, Tupelo Quarterly, Verse Daily, Witness Magazine, West Branch, and others. She is an associate poetry editor for the Colorado Review, holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Colorado State University, and is the Education Programs Coordinator for the Virginia G. Piper Center for Creative Writing at Arizona State University. She lives in Phoenix, AZ with her partner Chris and their two dogs.