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Interview with 2015 1/2 K Prize Finalist Felicia Zamora

2015 1/2 K Prize Finalist, Felicia Zamora, answers our much anticipated questions about her poem “Decoy” and her overall experiences as a writer. In this interview, she dives in and elaborates on what inspired this piece and gives advice to writers submitting to our ongoing 2016 1/2 K Prize.

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FelicFeliciaZamora7-2-16ia Zamora is the author of the book Of Form & Gather, winner of the 2016 Andrés Montoya Poetry Prize from University of Notre Dame Press. She won the 2015 Tomaž Šalamun Prize from Verse, and authored the chapbooks Imbibe {et alia} here (Dancing Girl Press 2016) and Moby-Dick Made Me Do It (2010). Her published works may be found or forthcoming in Bellevue Literary Review, Columbia Poetry Review, Crazyhorse, Cutbank, Hotel Amerika, Indiana Review, Meridian, North American Review, Phoebe, Pleiades, Poetry Daily, Poetry Northwest, Puerto del Sol, Salt Hill, Tarpaulin Sky Magazine, The Adirondack Review; The Burnside Review, The Cincinnati Review, The Michigan Quarterly, The Normal School, TriQuarterly Review, Verse Daily, Witness Magazine, West Branch, and others. She is an associate poetry editor for the Colorado Review and holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Colorado State University. She lives in Colorado with her partner, Chris, and their two dogs, Howser and Lorca.

What inspired you to write “Decoy” and what made you want to focus on giant tube worms, especially when they are such uncommon and unique creatures?

We all evolved from an amniotic, liquid state, both in utero and from an evolutionary standpoint. Our human bodies are about 70% water and about 70% of the earth is water. Fascinating! I feel an innate pull to oceans and all bodies of water. It’s no wonder that “Decoy” tumbled onto the page with organic fervor after a deep ocean documentary captivated me for a few hours.

Anglerfish, tube worms, and Martin Buber—Oh my!

The anglerfish got me thinking: What makes us special? As humans, we dissect the world, situations, our minds, other people, our bodies, and our actions all to try and figure out…well, figure out. We seem to need evidence to be something. The funny thing is that just being here, on this earth right now, makes us special. Then, take the giant tube worms that live miles below the surface of the ocean next to hydrothermal vents where the hydrogen sulfide levels are extreme. The giant tube worms made me think: What makes us? What comprises us as humans? Who are we relative to our environment? We are deep, ocean deep, and we are always more, much more, than the self we portray to the outside world. Our facades are decoys as we remain in a constant state of discover, a state I call float. Enter here philosopher, Martin Buber. I and Thou was a powerful read for me, and I keep coming back to it throughout my poetry. How can we consider the self without considering our relationships to others? Picture Buber and the anglerfish in a stare down…just for fun.

You know, I focused on giant tube worms because they are perceived as rare and unique! This goes back to the questions of: What makes us? and What make us special? I think the natural world fascinates in even the most ordinary things. When I speak of things, I speak of living, cellular beings which include you and me. I feel comforted by considering myself a thing. It allows for a deeper connection with this world. If I am a thing, just as a mulberry bush, a mollusk, or a tube worm are things, I feel more implicated, more responsible to this life. This reminder helps influence my choices and actions as I navigate nature as part of nature. I am not here to be a bystander. Perhaps this is the way I try to figure out. What? I am still figuring that out.

 

Throughout your poem there is a constant fluidity and rhythm maintained by your use of punctuation. Could you speak to how you see them operating within the context and form of the poem?

Someone once told me, you can’t use semicolons in poetry. I am a don’t-tell-me-what-to-do kind of gal, so of course I wrote an entire book where semicolons are essential stars of the show. This is the first time I worked with such intentional punctuation and mimicked forms throughout an entire manuscript, not just one or two poems. “Decoy” is a part of this larger body of poems where the connectivity of thoughts, lines, and stanzas require the permeability of the semicolon. The semicolon requires a pause longer than the comma yet shorter than the period, and a necessary consideration of the phrases on either side of the semicolon with a reinforced, physical reminder of relationship. Most importantly, the punctuation in “Decoy” resembles the way the mind thinks, almost simultaneously, with thoughts compounding on each other. Therein lies the loveliest product of the semicolon: a replication of a natural state of thought. In that replication emerges the rhythm that elevates the poem to its greatest potential.

 

Do you have any tips or tricks for dealing with writer’s block?

I write about it! When everything’s on the table, it allows for creativity to enter back into the equation. Poetry is a fine line between love, obsession, and need. I never quite know which one brings me to the page, but instead of spending time on the motivation behind what brought me there, I write about whatever is with me when I arrive. Once at the page, the journey begins. I learn about myself with each poem I write. Sometimes that discovery is about the process of writing, itself, which includes what I like to call the wide-wide, the overwhelming landscape, or writer’s block. The importance lies in bringing yourself to the page and trusting that whatever evolves was needed, even if to show the wide-wide you are not intimidated.

 

If you could give a piece of advice to any writer preparing to submit to the 2016 ½ K Prize, what would you say?

Find the pieces that speak to you, and be brave! Send the poems you are most proud of, the ones you read over and over and rediscover something each time you read them. Send the poems where the voice haunts you, in the most extraordinary way. You are only a submission away from your next acceptance. Keep writing! Put away those old poems you’ve edited too many times; move on to the new ones, the ideas in bulge, waiting for birth. They can’t all be prize winners, but building your arsenal of poems allows for more choice, more practice, and the ability to keep writing regardless of publication. In many ways, the journey of writing is the prize. The accomplishment and recognition is nice, but secondary to the poetry itself.

 

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