Every week, I’ll be doing a mini feature on my site (& blasting it on social media) on activists, artists, and educators who are doing important things in the world. Like Levar Burton says, the only thing these folks have in common is that I like them, and I hope you do too.
This week’s feature is Felicia Zamora. I was lucky enough to get to share the stage this month at the University of Arizona’s Poetry Center with Felicia, and was blown away by her work, which explores the physical, political, and natural world, reminding us that they are always interconnected. Here’s Felicia, in her own words.
Where can we find your work?
I’ve been lucky to work with really amazing presses and journals. My books can be found at: University of Notre Dame Press, Parlor Press, and Slope Editions. Poems are in various journals; a few samples online are OmniVerse, West Branch, The Collagist. You can find me at feliciazamora.com and Instagram feliciazamorapoet.
What theme or ideas do you feel your work engages with?
My obsessions definitely range, but lately ecopoetics, social justice, human equity, the fight for voice, and our broken societal systems are always tumbling through my being. Our varied identities make us lovely and unique, but our country’s white-male-cisgender-able-bodied-heterosexual-overarching narrative constantly smashes into the lives of underrepresented people who don’t fit into this tiresome and oppressive mold. I ask questions to myself: How do I/we break down this narrative? What does it mean to be a woman of color in today’s society? What must I fight for? How must I self-preserve? I look in to look out. I look out to look in. Societally, politically, structurally this country has a fever, a sickness of inequity, of hate without understanding. I’m interested in how we heal. I’m interested in a collective mending.
What were you like as a child?
Feral. Very feral. This actually explains a lot about me. I lived in the trees outside the old motel I grew up in. My brother and I would make elaborate forts cut from the sloping dirt hills of the small forest behind the motel. The forest, being a former dumping ground, filled our scavenging with treasures. We’d rig old electrical cables through the trees and high-wire around, watching the pasture of sheep to the south. On another side of the pasture, I made the mulberries trees my canoe, my train, my rocket ship, my bed; my feet and palms always stained. I think this is what home means to me: a place where I’m more earth than bone.
I think I was too good of a liar. I loved my bicycle. I still do.
Can you remember the first piece of art– performance, literary, fine, street–you saw/read that wowed you?
I remember bark. I remember putting my nose to it every chance I got. My little hands and face smooshed to bark. I remember the smell of Mulberry bark, Oak bark, Boxelder Maple, Walnut. Nature was art to me; my first exposure to how patterns form; how we occur so random and yet so full. Granted, I was easily wowed as a child, but the smell of Elm and wind on my hands felt as close to art as I’d ever been. The art as its own artist. I feel that way about my humanity too: creator and created all at once.
What work do you do in the world that you feel proud of?
I’m proud that words found their way into me and embedded. I’m proud to be a poet. It’s hard and glorious and terrible and thoughtful and will-testing and ever-changing work. I like that. If one line of one poem I’ve written moves someone, I chalk that up to doing good. Anytime a journal or editor takes a chance on me, that makes me proud. Teaching also makes me proud. As a poor, Latinx kid from a small town, nothing was expected of me. Education gave me knowledge and opportunity. Giving knowledge back and empowering others is very meaningful to me. I’m also proud of being a partner, a sister, a daughter, an aunt, and a friend. I epic-ly fail at all of these on any given day, but it’s the trying that makes me proud. Some of you in my sphere know exactly what this means…but you forgive and keep me around anyway.
What’s keeping you embodied right now?
My partner. My sister. My brother. These three humans know me deeper than anyone (and that’s a frightening endeavor). They make me a better person and I want to be better for them. Also writing. I write because I must; it’s ingrained in my being. This fact keeps me grounded, keeps me honest, and keeps me competing with myself to do more good in this world than the alternative.
Tell us a story.
Well, this just happened…I guess you get a poem!
Memory of Eden
She laid her naked heart
on beetle wings, boulders, against
walnut bark, under the sprays of waterfalls,
on tips of dying dandelions, on goats’
horns—her tattoos wet from muscle
work, teeth worn, heels calloused, hair
on her lip unwaxed, the intricate spots
of age pocked through forearm
ink & two swollen-knuckled hands—
she branded verses not yet written
on her tongue, secrets & stories rolled
down her esophagus to swallow
into memory, to her brain for safe
keeping inside her body she knew
the world wanted not, wanted her flesh
carved & cadavered; wanted her cells
to pluck birth from her, her tongue
severed. Never just born, she knew heaven
held no place for her; she knew heaven
in electrical synapses, her own voice, her sweat.
Anything else we should know about you?
Worms scare me. It’s strange, but they do. I used to walk to school after it rained in the mornings and inspect the concrete for their sluggish bodies in the puddles. I could smell them. Probably the most attention I’ve ever given to my gait. I love otters. I embrace random tangents of thought in my writing, as they allow me to discover and rediscover the world and myself.
Felicia Zamora’s books include Of Form & Gather, winner of the 2016 Andrés Montoya Poetry Prize (University of Notre Dame 2017), & in Open, Marvel (Parlor Press 2017), and Instrument of Gaps (Slope Editions 2018). She won the 2015 Tomaž Šalamun Prize from Verse, authored two chapbooks, and was the 2017 Poet Laureate of Fort Collins, CO. Her poetry is found in Alaska Quarterly Review, Crazyhorse, Indiana Review, jubilat, Meridian, Prairie Schooner, The Georgia Review, West Branch, and others. She is an associate poetry editor for the Colorado Review, received her 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.