Voices of Bettering American Poetry—Nico Amador

What poets do you identify with, or feel you are grouped with by editors, readers, conference organizers, or educators? What misconceptions do you see about these groupings of poets? Do you feel these groupings can be useful, can be potentially marginalizing or disenfranchising, or can be both?

I’m still so new to any kind of national writing scene, I don’t know that I’ve been officially “grouped” anywhere.  Like anyone, I’d like to be seen and read for my full range of affinities and influences, but I also proudly claim my identification with Latinx poets, queer poets, trans and non-binary poets, emerging poets, etc.

I don’t think those groupings are problematic when we – the people who make up those groups – are the ones who are initiating the reasons for seeking each other out. I want the support of those friendships and those mentors, and I want the informal spaces that occur alongside them – the conversations that happen at the bar or on the stoop or over breakfast.  I think of it less as a need for ‘community,’ which is such a vague idea, and more as a need for places where I get to have intimacy with other writers.  There’s something irreplaceable about getting to be with people who get you, who understand the questions you’re asking and the experiences driving the need for those questions.

The problems start when those groupings are imposed from the top down, in ways that are inauthentic to what the real needs are or aren’t.  It creates the relationship around whatever is at the top – the award, or anthology, or press, or paycheck – instead of among the people themselves.  It displaces the possibility for intimacy.

Do you feel that your writing is assumed to be autobiographical? How do you feel about this assumption? Does memoir play a role in your poetry?

I think of my work as autobiographical, because it is personal, but not because it’s true. One of my most important breakthroughs as a young writer happened when I realized that poets aren’t bound to facts. The invitation to work in an imaginative realm was liberating, because I could carve out the space to communicate what felt most true, even if the details I was using were not.  By crafting memoir with elements that are surreal, lyrical, or just clearly made up, I’m inviting readers into the fantasy, self-invention, the multiple realities that my world relies on. The “I” within the poems is unstable, spoken from many vantage points, because my own identity is unstable in the way I experience it.

How is the body constructed by the social? Does this impact your work?

Recently I’ve been thinking about how trans bodies are constructed within the typical ‘101’ talk and the firm distinction that’s always made between gender and sexuality. I wouldn’t argue against the reasons why that distinction is necessary, but when I’ve been part of that kind of teaching, I’m always left feeling a little troubled by how much distance is then created between those two aspects of how people inhabit their bodies, as if they don’t inform each other.  As if we put sex in a corner in order to explain the longings of trans bodies in ways that are less complicated than I think they actually are. There’s something in there I want to challenge.  In other words, the body I want can also be about who I want and what I want with them.

I think too about how sex can transform an experience of the body without the body itself having to change. The same acts done with the same parts mean something different depending on the desires that underlie them, what we’re consenting to call those acts, and what kind of space is being held in the gaze of the people doing them. That an identity can be accessed or affirmed through encounters with other bodies, not just through a progression of modifications to one’s own body, is radical, miraculous even.

I’m really interested in those encounters and how the poem can be a site for enacting that same kind of transformation.

Is there anything in your work that people frequently misunderstand?

When my chapbook first came out, many people commented on the sorrow that exists within the poems. That surprised me, at first, because I didn’t relate to sorrow as the motivating instinct of the poems. I felt much more aware of how memory and place and longing shaped my process and the language in that body of work. I didn’t fully recognize how much grief or pain was present in it until I had readers reflect it back to me.

I balk a little at the idea that I could be interpreted as a sad person or a tortured person. I don’t want to be boxed into that kind of trope. At the same time, my tendency in my life outside of writing, in the leadership positions I’ve held as an activist and organizer is to avoid admissions of vulnerability. Poetry is the one place where I’ve been able to give myself more permission to express that vulnerability, which sometimes shows up as sorrow or grief or despair.  Having readers name those emotions in my work has helped me understand them as a generative and necessary part of my experience – not something I have to disassociate from to preserve my agency as a person.  These days I’m working on being more joyful as a poet and more vulnerable as an activist.


NICO AMADOR is a poet, community organizer, and educator who lives in Vermont by way of Philadelphia and San Diego.  His first chapbook, Flower Wars, was the recipient of the Anzaldua Poetry Prize and published by Newfound Press in 2017.  He is an alumni of The Home School and the Lambda Literary Foundation’s Writers Retreat, serves as poetry editor at Thread Makes Blanket Press and helped to co-found the Rogue Writing Workshop of Philadelphia, which provides workshop instruction with accomplished poets to those writing and learning outside of academic institutions.


This interview series is conducted with authors from the anthology, Bettering American Poetry Volume 3. As Bettering’s editors wrote in their call for nominations, “Our efforts will intentionally shift favor so that the literary landscape within this anthology reflects a ranging plurality of voices in American poetry and illuminates the possibilities of sharing space … This anthology represents just one concerted effort to better American poetry, but it is one that we hope will resonate.”

Bettering has sought to delve deeper with the poets selected for this anthologies. These questions are composed collectively by the editors, with the belief that the literary community needs a polyphony not only of poems but of poets’ voices.