Body of Render
by Felicia Zamora
Red Hen Press, 2020
In “Body of Render,” Felicia Zamora cleverly employs mini-prose poems and collage-like fragmentation, similar to previous collections, but what makes this book stand out is her attention to the current American political landscape as well as race in the era of Trump. In her poem, “In the name of freedom (an election thought),” Zamora observes an American disconnect, as a generation hooked on the internet, and accurately criticizes our “lack of empathy,” which led to the election of a dangerous demagogue. Pointing her justified finger at the narcissistic internet and dangerous social media propaganda, Zamora muses in the middle of the poem: “how we stay at wrist-lengths from society,/ our keyboard cage; such less we we more my/ my…” Crucially, Zamora sees the obsession with social media and the empty screen as a distraction which led to the rise in power of a “sexual predator” and the realization of “joke’s sad fruition.” While Americans increasingly use the internet with each generation, Zamora warns, we will also continue to elect dangerous, toxic males and reality television stars to represent us in office.
Later on, in “Election Night,” in another poignant poem with the word “election” in it, Zamora urgently shares her concerns for America following the 2016 presidential election—concerns at least half the country also viscerally felt that infamous night. As a Latina and woman of color, Zamora has more to lose than mere political allegiances. Her rights and very life, and the rights and life of people of color like her (and other vulnerable folks), are at risk with the election of a xenophobic president. Today, it is “Mexicans are rapists.” Tomorrow, it is lock them all up. Resistance to such hatred is the only solution, as Zamora’s collection warns. In the middle of the poem, Zamora voices the urgency of the American political situation, especially for underprivileged communities:
nasty woman me; how proud: & the nation
teeters on a razor, ready to bleed—red red red
my pupils in the stun—for a president who
believes me a disgusting animal; how numbers
tally & tally & panic seeds in my chest, my
mind traumas, shit shit;”
Zamora utilizes fragmentation and stream-of-consciousness techniques in order to recapture the moments of justified panic and fear following the election of a white supremacist. These mini-prose poems resemble word-collages of trauma: they are the manifestation of the genuine rage following the election of an alarmist and divider.
Zamora’s stunning third full-length book also confronts the realities of race in America; specifically, the speaker in these poems uncovers the conflicts of being biracial: half White and half Latina, in her case. Moreover, the speaker in Zamora’s poems feels two often distinct realities at once: thoughts of not being Latina enough, while also feeling not White enough. In a poem titled, “The retreat,” she pours out her angst about what is essentially a no-win situation:
“How you come to facilitate, yet, yet, this discussion
tears away pieces of you; & someone says white-
passing; & how a familiar voice eludes, not brown
enough again, not white enough again, & your mind
dives back into his words, you dirty little spic;”
Zamora’s isolation is twofold: she is viewed (or is it internal?) as white-passing by her Latinx peers, who push her away for fear of corrupting their otherwise “real” culture. Simultaneously, Zamora is just a “dirty little spic” to the majority of her “pure” White compatriots. Any drop of Mexican blood is too much to such small minds. Growing up between two cultures, “ni de aquí ni de allá,” alone, never fully accepted by either side, Zamora ultimately finds some stability and peace through art and poetry. At the end of “The retreat,” she arrives at a relatively empowered state through the use of language and word play: “your/ mind chants I am enough, I am enough, enough; enough.”
In the middle of the collection, in a section titled “No Apologies to America Anymore,” in a poem called “Poem to America,” Zamora speaks of her tough upbringing as a low-income, mixed-race Latina. This time writing a longer prose poem, (a traditional prose poem with lines that go to the end of the page), the speaker begins:
Grit under nails, belly of food stamps & government cheese: see, this body
constructed in poverty, under the fists of many, who you taught to fear for her own
Latina skin, who grew inside your guts;
Zamora, in proclaiming her underprivileged upbringing, owns it, and calls America what it is, to its face: a land of opportunity for the privileged, not for all. Although Zamora is half-White, she doesn’t grow up with the socio-economic privileges typically associated with White privilege. Instead, she is busy fighting tooth-and-nail for basic resources, and hopefully, a seat at the table.
In this luminous, multifaceted collection, Zamora continues her surgical and experimental relationship with form and language, like in her previous work; however, in “Body of Render” she also debunks the idea of an America for all, an idea she “no longer apologizes for,” in preference for a more democratized, diverse form of social justice. Zamora is a singular voice in both Latinx and American letters: she is the future and present of American poetry. This book deserves to win awards. It is Zamora’s finest collection, which is saying a lot.