Episode 12: Poet and dramatist Paloma Zozaya

Mexican poet Paloma Zozaya shares with Literary South’s community three poems, talks about writing, and about living ten years in Honduras.

“We are all poets but it’s a faculty that can get blocked or erased or forgotten. I think poetry is not just writing; it is in everything… it’s contained in a painting, even in the horror there is poetry. Poetry is natural to life.”


Our guest today is the Mexican poet Paloma Zozaya. Paloma is a poet and macramé weaver. Today she will be sharing with us three poems.

Silvia Rothlisberger: Paloma, welcome.

Paloma Zozaya: Hello Silvia. Thank you very much for inviting me and for your interest. I’m very happy to be here.

Silvia Rothlisberger: Paloma, what got you into writing poetry?

Paloma Zozaya: Well, I’ll tell you I’ve done many things in my life and this decision of sitting down and writing is a result of everything. It is wanting to make sense of all my senseless life which has not developed in a linear way. I started by doing theatre very very young. I come from a family of writers and theatre people and poets. Poetry, I’ve written all my life. I’ve only recently decided or made the decision to sit down and write. Do nothing but write, apart from living. And I’m a very late comer to this, although I’ve been writing poetry. I think poetry is a human function that most of us do naturally. It’s faculty that we all have.

Silvia Rothlisberger: So you think that anyone can be a poet?

Paloma Zozaya: I think we’re all poets. But it’s a faculty that can get blocked or erased or forgotten or downtrodden. But yes I think poetry, and it’s not just writing, poetry is everything: it is contained in a painting, it is contained even in the horror, there is poetry. So yes, I think poetry is natural to life.

Silvia Rothlisberger: And how did you get into macrame?

Paloma Zozaya: OK, macrame is a very recent stage. I’ve always been very creative, I’ve had the good fortune of coming across letters that I wrote to friends when I was a child and I was talking about necklaces that I made or something that I was weaving, which I had forgotten about. So obviously this was very much in me. I came to macrame quite recently when I was living in Central America in the Caribbean coast of Honduras. And that’s when I started making necklaces for my friends and family and that developed from there. And I loved weaving and dealing with colour and textures and shapes and it has been for me a great path to healing my life. But I really started by doing theatre when I was very young about the age of 14 in Mexico. I come from a family of poets and writers and theatre people. I was very fortunate when I was a child. There were people around me like Diego Rivera, Ruth Rivera Marín, Xavier Villaurrutia, Salvador Novo. This was the air I was breathing as a child. So in a way it does make sense that I have come to writing now. It’s like I’ve gone full circle.

Silvia Rothlisberger: Are they family friends?

Paloma Zozaya: They were family friends, yes. They were friends of my grandfather who was a dramatist. He wrote a theatre play and directed theatre. He was the founder of “Teatro de Ulises” which was a literary and theatrical movement in Mexico in the 50s.

SR: And what were you doing in Honduras?

Paloma Zozaya: I am also a homeopath and I went there in the middle of the 90s to work with a Honduran doctor in the clinics for underprivileged people. I was sent by an English charity called “Homeopathy for a change”. And that’s where the Honduran adventure started. I fell in love with a country and when the project finished, I came back here and I just, as we say in Spanish, “Ya no me hayé” I couldn’t find myself here anymore. So I went back to Honduras on my own steam and I went straight to this village in the Caribbean which is a fishing village of Afro descendant people, the Garifuna people.

SR: Oh, I know that culture.

Paloma Zozaya: And I was mind blown by the presence of, oh made my hair stand on end just mentioning it, the presence of Africa in my continent. And I stayed. I stayed for 10 years and I developed a project called CANICU (Casa de la Niñez y la Cultura). I was very lucky to get funding from small branch of Christian Aid which was developed after the Mitch hurricane, which was to fund small projects. And we built this great big house with palm and cane. And we ran there projects mostly for children, where we ran classes for kids to learn how to weave and how to keep the traditions alive.

SR: Paloma, can you share with us the poem Chaos?


Silvia Rothlisberger: Thank you, Paloma Zozaya. What inspired you to write this poem?

Paloma Zozaya: I wrote this poem inspired by the film Nostalgia for the Light by Patricio Guzman. There was a call to this poetry competition and I just thought ‘I want to be part of this’. I had seen the film long time before and loved it and then I was inspired. I sat down and I meditated and this poem just came by itself. And then I worked on it of course.

SR: Paloma you quote a lot in your website the author Clarissa Pinkola Estés and in particular the book Woman who run with the wolves. So what does this book mean to you?

Paloma Zozaya: It is an iconic book for, I would say, most women of my generation. It deals with myths and histories and story telling which is something that fascinates me how the same way that, I think, poetry is inherent to human nature, storytelling is too. We tell stories therefore we are. And Clarissa Pinkola Estés in a very soulful way interprets stories that talk of the processes of being a human and for just very quickly the one that comes to mind now is one about anger, about anger and how this woman wants to learn how to approach her husband who is a very angry man and goes to this wise woman who says ‘Look what you should do: there is a bear in this cave and you should go and feed it. It’s going to take a long time. And you have to bring me a hair from the chest of this bear. And to get to do this you have to approach the bear little by little each day you go, you bring it food, you befriended little by little until you will be able to take a hair from this Bear’s chest’. So to cut a long story short, this is a lesson on how to approach our anger: with love, with patience, with nurturing. Yes, there are so many things in that book I love.

SR: Paloma is now going to share with us the poem “Darkness” which received honorific mention during the poetry contest Nostalgia for the light, organized by Chilean voices.


SR: Thank you, Paloma Zozaya. So this poem, I’m guessing, you wrote it for the competition?

Paloma Zozaya: Yes I also did. But this was very much based on real facts as most things are. There was a big fire in this nature reserve in Honduras The Jeannette Kawas National Park. And the fire burned for days, for five, six days, a week, I don’t know, but the thing is that the authorities never send any help to extinguish it. There was a minor effort made but nothing whole heartedly put in place. And the thing is that this big industry of palm, African palm, for palm oil and it is military and retired military people who own the plantations of palm, and there was evidence that this was arson. And of course there was never a prosecution. This happened shortly after Berta Cáceres, who was a defendant of the rivers, the land, the mother country against multinational oil companies, against the dam in particular. Well, Berta Caceres got murdered shortly before this. Then there was a fire, a similar fire in Mexico. And this is just recurring far too often. So that’s what this poem is about.

SR: And Paloma, how often do you write poems?

Paloma Zozaya: I am writing poetry not often enough at the moment because I am going into something completely new for me which is short stories and prose. There are all these stories, mostly from my experience in the Caribbean and Central America, that haunt me. And they just won’t leave me alone. It’s a kind of curse. And I think in fact it goes far far back. The more I go into it, I think it is the story of my mother and my grandmother and my great grandmother and all our grandmothers, before that they have started to haunt me and words haunt me. And unless I tell them I just cannot be. So I’m concentrating on my storytelling which is poetry. And this is so new to me. I’m a very late comer to literature. And it does make me cry. I hear people Iike Leonardo Boix, who was writing professionally when he was, oh he was publishing when he was ten or maybe I’m exaggerating but I am really a very late comer. Anyway that’s how it is.

SR: It’s never too late. So do you write in English or in Spanish?

Paloma Zozaya: Both.

SR: Paloma, can you share with us one last poem?


SR: Thank you, Paloma Zozaya. What’s the story behind this poem?

Paloma Zozaya: The story behind this poem is very simply: time goes by very fast. I don’t know if it was last year or the year before, there was a series of girls who appeared in India, appeared hanging from trees. They had been raped, though of course the investigation, the most recent investigation said: ‘Oh, no. These girls had not been interfered with and it could have been suicide’. But us who come from countries of cover ups we know how officials work. But anyway, that’s what this poem is about, it is about these girls.

SR: So what has changed in between Woman Food and the time you wrote poems like Chaos or Darkness?

Paloma Zozaya: Well, I have changed a great deal because I change every day and in a year or a year and a half I certainly have changed an awful lot. I’ve  been writing a lot more, I’ve been writing a lot more seriously in a more dedicated way. I don’t know if very much has changed in the world, perhaps not I’m afraid. Not enough anyway.

SR: Thank you, Paloma Zozaya for accepting Literary South’s invitation today.

Paloma Zozaya: Thank you Silvia very much for your interest. I’m really very honoured to be part of your program where you had so many interesting writing professionals. I feel very honoured. Thank you.

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