This moving collection of poetry by Felicia Zamora covers a range of topics from love, politics, identity, addiction, and the natural world. On one level, Body of Render explores a political theme—the 2016 election of Donald Trump and the author’s navigation through that event from campaigning to the presidency. But on another, the poems deal with the reckoning of life itself: love, body, constellations, universe, and identity all combusting together. The book is broken into four sections: At the Hand of Other, Raw Deliberation of Circumstances, No Apologies to America Anymore, and Infinite Design of a Mouth, Open.
Each section centers primarily on one main theme with At the Hand of Other focusing on transitions. The poems range from new personal relationships to dealing with entering a new era of politics. The poem “At the Hand of Other” captures the feelings and desire when wading in the waters of a new relationship. As the title alludes, plunging into a new relationship requires one to take a leap of faith, becoming vulnerable. In addition to embodying connectivity, it conveys the underside of being vulnerable—loneliness. This is a captivating poem on love and desire.
The other major theme of this section reflects on the election cycle of Trump. Poems cover the campaigning, election, and post-election phases. One of my favorite poems in this election narrative is “In the name of freedom (an election thought).” Not only does this poem examine the fallout of the election pitting a supremely qualified candidate (Clinton) and a “sexual predator, say a joke’s sad fruition,” but it also interrogates social media. Zamora laments a downside of social media which has a tendency to squelch deep analysis, or as the author puts it, “how social media invents: a therapy gap to consider less & speak more.” The poem concludes on a somber note of the eventual election results.
Later, the poem “Survival—three days after election” conveys a sense of surrealism, a grappling with the outcome no one expected. The poem viscerally describes the beating of a heart as “a meatish, blood-filled organ with veins & arteries protruding.” The purpose of this poem after all the visceral allusions is to simply remind one to remember to breathe in the wake of a political gob smack.
The poems in the second section titled Raw Deliberation of Circumstances expand on the theme of identity. The ‘circumstances’ seem to be all of those aspects of one’s identity and the poems deal with racial identity, gender identity, sexual trauma survivor, addiction, and humanity. “The wild in which we are” is a stunning poem that sets the tone for this section. In half a dozen vivid stanzas, Zamora unifies the natural world of the Himalayan Mountains with the exasperation of identity issues that prevent society from knowing someone authentically. She notes how race, politics, religion, cities and nations may separate us but then also indicates how we are kept separated by those who only perceive us as ‘observers’ through these glass jars. Interestingly, some of the stanzas in the same poem take a macro view of the world—a world with pristine mountain ranges and snow leopards. I read this poem as drawing us from the natural world to that of personal identity. This illustrates how far apart from the animal world we have become. Identities that remain ‘distant’ and seek to separate people from each other because they fear anything different from their own experience. The sense of ‘otherness’ seems to be pitted against the animal instinct of the snow leopards, so that differences end up becoming stereotypes to be kept in “glass jars.” In this regard, it reminded me of some of the works of Carmen Giménez Smith, especially the poem “Origins.”
Other poems in this section grappled with racial and gender identity more explicitly, including the poem “The retreat.” In this poem, the narrator is participating in a race-related forum where she serves as facilitator. The discussion runs a gamut of topics but once it veers into white passing, the narrator is wrecked. How often does it happen that one is either called out by both aisles of the identity issue:
“not brown enough again not white enough again & your mind dives back into his words, you dirty little spic;…”
This poem seems to harken to the challenges of being a Latinx where there are moments when you have to play the “identity card game” trying to justify yourself as some speak fluent Spanish while others may be white passing. Then, when you think you have located your position within your community, you find yourself marginalized by the mainstream at such places as the professional world or academia, and in this way, the poem really hit home for me.
The third section No Apologies to America Anymore seems to build on the sections that have been previously explicated. The poems sizzle with defiance. From poems about viewing an exhibition on the Noche Triste (the Sad Night, a reference to the Spanish conquest of the Mexica peoples) to accounts of an economically marginalized Latina, they seem unapologetic. These poems are the panacea to the expressions offered in the first section, especially in reference to the Trump election. In one poem titled “Mathematics of healing: a poem to America,” one is confronted with the rising cost of rehabilitation for a partner struggling in the throes of addiction. The larger context is not only rehabbing an addict but notably the challenges of the U.S. healthcare system:
“the familiar system of capitalism, say $$$ & you weigh your partner’s health against a price, a price the weight of your heart in sag, a price that makes you speak in equations;”
These are challenges many face particularly at this moment in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The final section, Infinite Design of A Mouth, Open ends on a glimmer of hope. Despite the changing environment engendered by the 2016 presidential election, there is possibility of becoming unified. Fear mongering and hatred can be put aside. In the final poem “& in mend, we” there is mild optimism about moving past the vitriol, an undoing of all the dissension of this moment:
“callout systems of hate; call out systems that once made may now be unmade, Let us be makers of a new nation, new home, new accountable thought.”
Body of Render is a searing collection of poems by Felicia Zamora who received her MFA from Colorado State University. Zamora has published several collections of poetry after receiving the Andrés Montoya Poetry Prize from Notre Dame for her manuscript Of & Gather in 2016, which subsequently published by Notre Dame Press in 2017. This book is the perfect read for #nationalpoetrymonth and may be of interest for poetry lovers and those keen on themes of identity and politics.
Body of Render: Poems
By Felicia Zamora
OUT TOMORROW - 21 April 2020 on Red Hen Press.