Acclaimed poet Natalie Scenters-Zapico was my Intro to Creative Writing teacher when I returned to UNM in 2012 to earn my English degree. Within days of our meeting, she realized I was too old and experienced to be limited to this required class, so she encouraged me to work as a slush reader with the Blue Mesa Review, UNM’s MFA-run literary magazine. It was exactly the vote of confidence that I, a working-class adult college student decades older than my peers, needed. Now a resident of Salt Lake City, Scenters-Zapico’s poems have appeared in journals like American Poets and The Believer.
With her debut collection The Verging Cities, I began to understand Scenters-Zapico as a poet. Published by the Center for Literary Publishing at Colorado State University in the Mountain West Poetry Series, The Verging Cities’ four sections give voice to Scenters-Zapico’s specific borderland experience (of El Paso and Ciudad Juarez, Mexico). Santa Fe University of Art & Design chair Dana Levin praises the book, saying that “Scenters-Zapico writes a rich, dark poetry of witness.” Scenters-Zapico will read selections from The Verging Cities at 7pm on Thursday, June 11, at Bookworks (4022 Rio Grande NW).
During an email exchange with the Alibi, Scenters-Zapico shares how her upbringing shaped her creative voice, her revision process, the format of The Verging Cities, and how her new town of SLC will add a new dimension to her borderland poetics.
The collection focuses on life in these two cities on the US-Mexico border—the heat, drunken nights in cheap bars, immigrants suffocating from thirst and the struggles of a man called Angel. Scenters-Zapico says that “the border has both conjured me into existence and haunted me since then.
“When I was working on this book, I was living in Albuquerque and was so terribly homesick for my sister cities,” Scenters-Zapico continues. “This book is my love letter to the border. It is a place that I may never escape. It is a place that prods me to speak, but wants me quiet at the same time.”
The poet spent five years working on The Verging Cities. “I really believe in giving time and space to the poem so that you can see new ways into it. Sometimes revision is surgical in that you have to remove things from it carefully; sometimes revision requires a major rewrite—either way, if you’re not seeing a new way in, both can be difficult.”
The collection is divided into four sections: “Con/verge,” “Di/verge,” “Re/Merge” and, finally, “Verge.” Scenters-Zapico explains that “the form of The Verging Cities as a book came from my interest in viewing the El Paso-Cd. Juárez border as existing on the verge, the beginning of one thing and the end of another in constant rotation. I like the idea that each section captures both a different way of viewing the border, but also a different place in the relationship between the speaker and the Angel figure that appears in the book.”
When asked if she considers her poetry to be political, Scenters-Zapico said that she’s “hesitant to consider myself a political poet,” and that moreover, she doesn’t “view the border as a political event. It is more than immigration, femicide and narco-violence. The border as a place of imagination runs much deeper than that.”
Despite its distance from her hometown, Albuquerque is still closer than Scenters-Zapico’s current residence of Salt Lake City. When asked how it feels to be there, she replied, “The border is my imaginative playground no matter where I find myself physically tied at the moment. Salt Lake City is home to a new set of poems, a new project that still exists on the border but under a more snow-fogged lens.”