Amanda Ortiz: natural born poet

Draped in layers topped by a beige cardigan, Amanda's ring-laden fingers tuck her blonde hair behind ears stove with pearl studs. Fingernails coated with chipped black polish lead the approach of a soft but secure handshake accompanied by a sincere smile. Filled with tame excitement and humble gratitude, she sits. Her eyes regard the tape recorder and notebook on the desk in front of her suspiciously, a side effect of the dim lighting inside the cold room which gives it the air of an interrogation. But the self-described "super awkward" middle child comes off as anything but and opens up quickly.

Amanda Ortiz is a Santa Monica College student and poet whose poem "Bamboo" has made its way to the semi-final round of Eber & Wein Publishing's National Amateur Poetry Competition with $2,000 as the top prize. It is also set to be published in an upcoming multi-volume series called "Where the Mind Dwells." Amanda explains the process behind this and other poems she has written in a conversation that covers spirituality, eating habits, music and how to save the world.

The story behind "Bamboo" is fairly prosaic but a poem about a bamboo plant is indicative of her usual theme. "I was sitting in my room," she says, "Thinking I wanted to write... and the bamboo just caught my eye... Usually in all of my poems I try to connect nature to myself... I feel like it's all connected and so it just evolved into the bamboo being so closely related to us. It was one of my favorite pieces to write because it just sort of happened."

As one of her biggest inspirations she cites the world renowned book, "The Alchemist" by Paulo Coelho. "I read that book a year ago right before I got into writing poetry. I could say that it was a big inspiration to me. I loved how simple it was but that it was so big at the same time... I love the essence of the book."

When it comes to the direct influences on her poetry however, she is an independent thinker. Friend and fellow SMC poet Chase Maser describes one of their first interactions. "I first met Amanda in Creative Writing class with Mario Padilla. [She] brought in a poem, she read and afterwards I spoke up to give feedback. I commented on her meter and rhyme and said that she should restructure the whole thing. She just grinned at me and rolled her eyes. The rest of the class loved the poem...Her work has always been spectacular."

Unconcerned with convention, she says, "I don't read a lot of poetry, I'll be honest with you... Writing is such a natural and personal thing that I can't really say that I'm directly influenced." Much of her poetry is simply absorbed from the world around her. "I love that, being inspired by something random that you see. I think it's the best feeling. It just lights me up. 'Oh I wanna write about that and make it into something relatable.'"

But Amanda can't be filed under just one label. She has a multitude of passions stemming from her spirituality. "I like to paint, do yoga, meditate, read books and write," she says, "Anything that I can do that's creative and just a way to connect. That's what I really enjoy."

Poetry also led her in a musical direction. "I love playing the guitar," she says, "and taught myself shortly after poetry became so dear to me... Playing guitar brings me right into a creative, peaceful zone and words naturally come to mind and I end up with some kind of poetic piece."

She credits becoming a vegetarian, which she has been for about three years, as what spurred her down a more creative and spiritual path. "Eating animals, when I really thought about what it was in truth, I didn't like it and I didn't feel comfortable with it anymore," she says. This led her to the study of other spiritual practices and how to stay well balanced. "I find peace through writing and creative expression, yoga and meditation."

It also led her to be more conscious of the environment. While she is leaning toward majoring in english, environmental studies is also a possibility. "I enjoy learning about it and being the hummingbird like I think we all should be," she says, a reference to a parable about a hummingbird who tries to extinguish a raging forest fire all alone with small drops of water while all the other animals stand and watch helplessly—a message to always do what you can.

The sophomore and LA native is an involved student as well and the first in her family to go to college. "I love being in school," she says, "It's a good environment to just explore yourself and meet people. I've met so many incredible people being here and I love that it's so diverse by age and ethnicity and everything. It's just awesome."

Amanda will continue to write and view the world through an artistic lens that allows her to see the complexity and beauty in the simplest things. She mentions the possibility of transitioning to writing short fiction and says she would like to write a book someday.

When asked what will save the world, she has no trouble answering, "The biggest problem in the world is that people lose touch with their truest connection to themselves and I think that clouds out the light inside of them and creates a lot of the problems that we think we have. I would say a way that we can change that and make the world a better place is to do what we can for ourselves and not focus on the whole but just one little thing that can inspire other people who might see you. Just take care of yourself and be positive. I think that will radiate and if others see it then it [will] spark something."