Zakiya Cowan interviews Diamond Forde

Zakiya Cowan: I love how this collection revolves around the body, specifically the fat body. Could you talk a bit about the process and the motivation with how it all comes together as a full-length poetry book?

Diamond Forde: Mother Body was my first foray into developing a fat girl poetics. Fat girl poetics is thinking about physical excessiveness and its supposed manifestations. Essentially, all the ways the body can be read as physically “deviant”—weight, race, gender presentation, etc. “Excessiveness” is a product of an external gaze, a social construct that says what the proper limit is (read: cis-hetero white men) and what exists outside of that limit. Mother Body is linked together through manifestations of the seemingly excessive.  

ZC: I was really struck by this oscillation between pieces that deal with the invasion or control of the body vs. the speaker reclaiming her body and being in awe of themselves. Why did you make it a point that these two motifs exist within the same space?

DF: Whenever I am writing through the external gaze, I have to consider how it acts both on and within the body. We can internalize our supposed “excessiveness.” When I look in the mirror and resent what I see, it’s because I’m believing all the outlets that are telling me fat, Black body is too much. I’m damn tired of subscribing to that. 

Mother Body was the space for me to regain control of my fat, Black body by gaining control over the external gaze. I determine what is seen and when in the book. Those choices are part of the scope of power poetry gives me. The speakers in the book are affected by external gazes because that is, ultimately, the truth—it is the first step in how we learn ourselves in the world. But we can move beyond that, too. We can cultivate agency by rejecting the external gaze or leaning into our “excessiveness.” 

Like yes, I am too much for you. Isn’t it wonderful? 

ZC: It’s really captivating how this collection not only deals with the speaker’s relationship to her own body but also her relationship to other bodies. From her mother and stepmother to gynecologists and lovers, the way the book excavates and explores these intimacies really drew me in. So, I’m curious, why did you decide to showcase the body in such different settings and in relation to vastly different people? What’s the significance behind bringing the speaker–and thus the reader– from the bedroom, to the dinner table, to the gynecologist office, to the drive-thru, etc.?

DF: Let’s be real, who we are (or who we’re perceived to be) largely depends on who’s in the room. So the ways my mother reads my Black body were and are very different from how my white, blonde, stepmother from the South views my body. Both my gynecologist and my lover explore my “wet below” but that exploration is different. The gazes they bring to my body are fundamentally different, and how I understand myself in a space is shaped by those gazes. I wanted to make that clear, so I’m so glad that’s coming through in the collection! 

ZC: I’m really interested in how the themes of motherhood, mothering, what these things look like, and how they’re performed are approached in the book. There’s a poem like “Four Years After My Third-Degree Burn, My Parents Divorce” which depicts a very close-knit and caring bond between the speaker and her mother. On the other hand, “The Last Time You Are Close To Your Body” couldn’t be more opposite as the speaker recounts their abusive, tension-filled relationship with her stepmother. There are also poems such as “Hysterectomy” where the speaker grapples with whether or not she wants to be a mother and “joke about chucking [their] fat sack uterus / every period.” How and why did you decide to draw these connections and linkages between mothers and bodies? Why did you feel that these two things needed to be in conversation with one another? 

DF: Our families are part of our first introduction to our subjectivity. My mom taught me how to be a Black woman in a white supremacist world because she wanted me to survive, like her mother wanted her to survive before me. We inherit these concepts of who we are from our parents, and I appreciate the things my mother taught me, but sometimes the concepts we inherit are outdated or troubling. Like I love my mother to death, but for her, a child with a uterus was a means towards grandchildren, and that’s been a big part of my understanding of who I am and will be. Tackling my mother’s gaze felt like the first obligation towards tackling the larger external gazes that (try to) define me. 

I think for folx with a uterus, the expectation to age up, get married, and bust out some babies is alive and thriving, still. And for some folx, that’s what up and I want to respect that. The goal of this book is not to reject the concept of motherhood. Rather, I wanted to transform and complicate our expectations of what motherhood looks like. So when the book starts, we’re seeing more expected images of “motherhood”—wombs and whatnot—but as the book moves towards the end, a key question shaping the conclusion was how we might learn to self-mother. How can I shape and define my own subjectivity through self-love? fat girl gave me space to explore that question.   

ZC: In the closing poems of the book readers are introduced to fat girl. What I admired about pieces like “Still Life With Fat Girl, Post-Coitus” and “On the Way Home From a Business Trip, Fat Girl Pulls Into a McDonald’s Drive-Thru in a Town She’ll Never See Again,” is that she is adamant about loving herself and her right to be loved. Is there a particular reason as to why you decided to close out the book with this series of poems? Why is it that in preceding poems there’s usage of “I” or “she,” but in these pieces, the speaker is specifically referred to as fat girl. 

DF: fat girl was a character I created to respond to that external gaze I was talking about earlier. fat girl is a reduction (or at least, her audience intends for her to be). But fat girl expands beyond the page.

I’ve had people in workshops criticize me for choosing not to capitalize “fat girl”, but capitalizing her name forces her to inhabit that character. It ignores the responsibility of the gaze, the characteristics thrust upon her, and I wanna see how fat girl thrives despite the gazes acting on her, the gazes asking her to minimize, to cease. fat girl allowed me to bring the gaze in question in a way that the seemingly autobiographical “I” couldn’t open. In several ways, fat girl functions similar to a persona in a persona poem. Interesting things happen in the cracks of a mask.   

ZC: A few weeks ago, I watched the reading that you did with Jonathan Weinert, and during the Q & A portion when asked about you’re writing process, you mentioned having difficulties going from work mode to a more creative/writing mode. In an ideal world, what does the space look like or what does the atmosphere feel like that allows you to have the most creative freedom? 

DF: The outside world can be such a distraction. Let’s say I want to write right now. First, I have to compartmentalize all my teaching stress, all the trauma being reenacted on my timeline, my editing work, etc. I have to ignore my partner. Find a space away from my dog. Turn off my damn email. Throw my cell phone into a well. Ask the maintenance guy in my hallway to turn off those damn leaf blowers.

And to be honest, I don’t really have a problem with asking for that time and space. The problem is that other people have a problem with me asking for that time and space. Writing is an assertion that I matter. When I have to sit down to write, I’m essentially telling everyone that I deserve this time because I say I do. In an ideal world, folx would respect that. 

ZC: Along with being a writer, I know that you’re also an editor for The Southeast Review and a Ph.D. candidate at Florida State University. Do you ever find these sections of your life overlapping? For instance, does being an editor impact your writing life or vice versa? 

DF: Definitely. Some of the greatest lessons I learned about poetry and writing is by engaging with other people’s work. Writers teach me that the wildest dreams are possible. I love this literary work.

ZC: Say you had to create a playlist for Mother Body. Who are some artists, or what are some songs, you would include?

DF: I was obsessed with this question, so I made a short playlist on Spotify. 

About Diamond Forde

Diamond Forde’s debut collection, Mother Body, is the winner of the 2019 Saturnalia Poetry Prize and is forthcoming in 2021. Diamond has received numerous awards and prizes, including the Pink Poetry Prize, the Furious Flower Poetry Prize, and CLA’s Margaret Walker Memorial Prize, and Frontier Poetry’s New Poets Award. She is a Callaloo and Tin House fellow, whose work has appeared in Massachusetts Review, Ninth Letter, NELLE, Tupelo Quarterly and more. Diamond serves as the assistant editor of Southeast Review. She is a PhD candidate at Florida State University and holds an MFA from The University of Alabama. She enjoys fish, grits, and R&B. 

About Zakiya Cowan

Zakiya Cowan is a Chicagoan writer who holds a bachelor’s degree in English and Spanish from Lewis University. Her work has been published in Split Lip Magazine, Hobart, Spoon River Poetry Review, The Chicago Reader, Green Mountains Review, and You Flower/You Feast: A Harry Styles Anthology. She is a Best of the Net nominee, a Best Small Fictions nominee, a 2020 Brooklyn Poets Fellowship recipient, and a longlist recipient Frontier Poetry’s New Voices Contest. She’s currently the Interviews Editor at Honey Literary.