Don’t Colonize My Books, Too

In my pre-college years, teachers only assigned me one book from the perspective of a Native American narrator—Walk Two Moons written in 1994 by Sharon Creech, winner of the Newbery Prize. I was eleven at the time. At that sad point in my life, I had never read a book about someone like me and I was living for the extra attention that I was getting from my classmates as the only Native American girl in my class in Raton, New Mexico. Cringy as it is to admit, I even remember fantasizing about the discussion, and how everyone would have to defer to me, the resident expert of Native-ness.

I was impressed with how lovely the writing was. The main character was quirky and fun to read about and the themes of loss, redemption, and learning to empathize were timeless and well executed. It was by far one of the best books that I had been assigned in school at that point, but I started to notice as I was reading that there were little passages or words or ideas that seemed to feel off to me.


“My real name is Salamanca Tree Hiddle. Salamanca, my parents thought, was the name of the Indian tribe to which my great-great grandmother belonged. My parents were mistaken. The name of the tribe was Seneca, but my parents did not discover their error until after I was born.”

Salamanca Tree Hiddle is a ridiculous name, but as someone who was often told that I had an “interesting” last name, I felt like I didn’t really have room to speak. It was odd though, that a book that so strongly marketed itself as a Native American novel would have a main character that had such a distant relation to a tribe, and even odder that her family didn’t even know what tribe that she came from in the first place. My mother drilled my Sioux identity in my head since I left the womb.


“In school, our teacher told us we had to say Native American, but I agreed with my mother. Indian sounded much better. My mother and I liked this Indian-ness in our background. She said this exotic substance in our blood made us appreciate the gifts of nature; it made us closer to the land.”

The whole identity debate is pretty common amongst Native people—some like indigenous, some like Native American, some like to drop the “American” bit and just go with Native. A majority of us dislike the term “Indian” since we aren’t, in fact, from India. But my own mother had slipped into using the word Indian from time to time, so maybe there was a faction of “Indian” defenders amongst us that I hadn’t yet encountered.

It was harder to excuse the notion that Native-ness genetically bought Indigenous people a magical connection to nature, but again, I felt like I couldn’t criticize since I had gone through a phase in my life where I thought that I could control the wind after watching Pocahontas.


“’What do you want to go see an old Indian smoking a pipe for?’ Gram asked. She didn’t like the term ‘Native American’ any more than my mother did.’

 ‘I just do.’ Gramps said. ‘We might not ever get the chance again.’

…In a little clearing outside the museum, an American Indian person was sitting on a tree stump smoking a long peace pipe. After watching him for about five minutes. Gramps asked if he could try it.”

This was starting to feel a little too Peter Pan to me—a peace pipe on a stump? You would think that a Native author would know better than to treat Indigenous people like a prop in a tourist attraction.


The more I read, the less I liked. I kept thinking about the little details, like the way that the author called the term Native American “primitive” (a pretty charged word to a lot of Native people) or how the word exotic was used a little too freely when talking about anything “Indian.” It was death by a thousand paper cuts—a collection of small offenses that made the book feel disingenuous to a person who should have felt the most at home with the text, a Native American girl.

I finished the book feeling uneasy and slightly irritated, but it wasn’t until eighth grade that those feelings bothered me enough to investigate a little. Thanks to the internet, it didn’t take long to uncover the truth about Sharon Creech in her Newbury acceptance speech: “My cousins maintained that one of our ancestors was an American Indian. As a child I loved that notion and often exaggerated it by telling people that I was a full-blooded Indian… I admit, but without apology, that my view of American Indians was a romantic one.” Needless to say, it’s hard to write accurately about a group of people you romanticize.

I still feel a vague sense of loss when I think about how excited I was to read and discuss Walk Two Moons with my classmates. They knew little about Indigenous people, and honestly, I was limited in my understanding as well. I grew up off the reservation away from the culture that my family came from and the people who could teach me what it meant to be Native American. The little real information I learned about the culture came from my mother in scraps and bits while the media onslaught of inaccurate Native American portrayals was constant. After being failed time and time again, I was ready for good Native American representation. I was ready to raise my hand up high during discussions and annoy my teacher with a flurry of overly enthusiastic opinions and comments. Instead, I sat quietly, and my hands rested on my lap.

2018 Summer Contest Winners!

We’ve been reading nonstop for several months and are so excited to finally announce the winners of our Summer Contest for 2018! Thank you to all our submitters, to our judges, and to our readers—and a huge congratulations to the following writers:


Nonfiction – Judged by Leslie Jamison

1st Place: “Pergelation” by Margaret Adams

2nd Place: “Homing” by Austyn Gaffney


Poetry – Judged by Franny Choi

1st Place: “Menstruation Triptych” by Jihyun Yun

2nd Place: “electric hand” by Ivanna Baranova

3rd Place: “Calluses” by Mauricio Novoa


Fiction – Judged by Luís Alberto Urrea

1st Place: “Art Unknown” by Nicole Cuffy

2nd Place: “An Answer to Your Question” by Laura Price Steele


Our contest winners will be published in Issue 38, forthcoming in early December 2018.

Double Impostor Syndrome: Being of Color in an MFA Program

Your stomach is double-knotting, your palms are clammy. Your nerves bang inside your skull. What did I get myself into? you think as you sit in this classroom for the first time. You are stuck somewhere between chatty and shitting bricks. It’s the first semester of your MFA, probably your biggest accomplishment to date, and the workload alone will smack your head like brass knuckles. It’s a three-year-commitment that no one you know has attempted before. Only one of your parents graduated high school. The other one’s not sure what a grad-level creative writing program is. They both assumed parole officers, court rooms and jail cells might be your future. A family tradition, your rites-of-passage. But then you changed, lost your leg, straightened out. Got your bachelor’s degree.

To make things harder, you’re a writer of color. You have no business being here. You don’t belong, not with these bustling “academics,” these privileged people at this institution for higher learning. No way. Are you kidding? Grad school is for rich kids, for intellectuals, not you. Engineers and scientists, brilliant minds. Not for some struggling Chicano who likes to read and write down stories and poems. What makes you think you can hang, like this is YOUR gig? Look around you. No one else comes from where you do. Sure, a few gente perhaps and a Nigerian writer, and one Native American poet/memoirist. But even a lot of the material you’re asked to read is old and classic white. You are assigned to read Claudia Rankine and Roxane Gay, but also Joyce and Orwell and someone named Polansky. And, a large portion of your cohort, the staff and faculty, your colleagues, your university, looks, even thinks, very white.

How can this be? you ponder. In New Mexico, where a majority of the people are of color. Why is that? Are there no intelligent people from your community? Where are the Native lawyers and Chicanas receiving business degrees? Or the Mexican American professors, for that matter. Yes, there are a few, you know. But this is freakin’ New Mexico you’re talking about here. And then, who actually graduates and completes their degree? Usually, not you, according to the numbers. You are some sort of anomaly. It’s a miracle you’ve made it this far. To an institution built in your backyard, for you but not really for you. So, you feel lucky to have an opportunity to better yourself. The pressure is on. Better not mess this up.

You meet a lot of smart people from other places, here to research and study your home. To analyze it, then turn around and write reports and articles on it, leaving out important details and facets of the story. While you? You must fight to be heard. You must claw, for every inch, to tell your own story in your own words. You must try harder than everyone else. You must give more than one-hundred percent just for your voice to exist here, drowned-out by the prestigious talking heads. Your story, your past, is gritty and real, like dirt in your teeth from the wind. You do not, cannot, write about luxury or the finer, lighter, things in life, although you wish you could. The jealousy you experience about this makes you want to scream. At no one in particular. Who would listen anyway? Besides, if you speak up, then you’re simply overreacting. You risk looking like “the angry one.” You’re just loud and unappreciative. But, of course you’re pissed. You work hard for the bread crumbs you scrounge, while some have access to the whole factory.

The divisiveness of everything makes you feel isolated and competitive, and you know you’re not the only writer of color who feels this way. After all, we expected more unity when we arrived here, more community, since that’s what we came from and now suddenly lack. You’re used to having family around: an abuela (grandmother), a close cousin, a crazy uncle. In the MFA, you don’t have that kind of support system. Here, you’re second-rate. Here, you’re a low-priority learner compared to white students, with half the perks. We have it hard enough as it is, just making friends and connections. You know this from chatting with the other few writers of color. Through them, you receive the emotional support you seek. You also receive support from your Anglo professor, who tells you about impostor syndrome, which is when someone doubts their own accomplishments for fear of being discovered a fraud. According to researchers Dr. Pauline Clance and Dr. Suzanne Imes, impostor syndrome arises when one has a constant need for validation. For writers, it arrives when an artist lacks a sense of acknowledgement and value, regardless of the talent they possess or number of publications they achieve. They imagine their success is a result of luck, not of hard work or individual skill. Basically, you get in if someone gets you in. You wonder if writers of color suffer a sort of “double” impostor syndrome, where one feels not quite good enough—and not quite white enough—either way.

How to Date a Writer

Whether you’re a writer who dates or you’re looking to date one, there are a few things you may need to know about the dating game. You might imagine that dating a writer is pretty romantic—what with the whole “art imitating life” factor—but it’s daunting to get involved with one. We’re moody, unrealistic and introverted. We’d much rather write or people watch than have a real conversation with real people. We procrastinate, and we’ll point out typos or grammatical errors in your texts and emails. We’re typically anxious about whether we will ever “make it big,” so we’re judgmental of ourselves and our work. And we’re slaves to coffee and beer.

For these reasons, most writers are not to be dated under any circumstances. If you’re still interested though, here are a few tips:

1. Don’t do it. It bears repeating. Even if your writer isn’t introverted, they are often quiet, indecisive, or a little insane. If we weren’t, we wouldn’t write anything worth reading, and we wouldn’t finish it either.

2. Your writer is a work in progress. Writers are notoriously pretentious and forgetful, and our anxiety and criticism can be infuriating. If we’re annoying, tell us so that we can reevaluate the aspects of our persona that are detracting from the scene. We’ll revise them. Drafting a piece over and over has taught us that some aspects of characters hurt the story, and sometimes we have to alter their behavior to tell the story we want to tell. Don’t feel bad if you have to ask your writer to revise something; maybe I’m only speaking for myself, but generally, writers are open to change and revision. If not, they probably aren’t a very good writer (or person), so you should probably break it off.

3. Check your writer’s policy on simultaneous submissions. When a writer sends a piece to numerous journals that accept simultaneous submissions, that’s fine. But when a journal specifies that a writer can only submit to one publication at a time, they understand that they can’t send their piece anywhere else. Writers operate in a similar fashion: some will be okay with monogamy and some won’t, and that’s okay. Just make sure you check your writer’s submission policy first, and let them know what your requirements are, too.

4. Sharing work is a big gesture. Often, the only people who will see a piece of work before it is finished are the writer’s workshop group, their editor or agent (if we have either), and the writer themselves. If you are invited to read a piece we aren’t finished with, we must really like you and respect your opinion. You don’t have to be involved with every step of the writing process, but if your writer offers you a piece of work, consider reading it. We want to hear your feedback.

5. You’re in our books. You contain multitudes. Your writer will see all of these. We will observe them, analyze them, and point them out to you sometimes. It’s in our nature. Sometimes it may seem like you’re only one thing or the other, but your writer is always examining your character for its nuances, and they will love you for each detail they zoom in on. Face it: you’re going to see aspects of yourself emerging in your writer’s work (the good parts, the bad parts, and everything in between). If you don’t, they probably don’t really love you.

6. We’re great at rejection. If you have to let us down, don’t worry. We’re great at rejection. We slave over pieces for hours, days, weeks, sometimes even years, and then we send them to journals that have <5% acceptance rates, or editors/agents with <1%. This is the best process for growing a thick skin. We believe in our work enough to know it will eventually find a home, even if that means revision after revision after revision, ad nauseum. If you need to dump your writer, just be straightforward, and turn us down in a timely manner. We’ll almost always appreciate direct and clear feedback over a form letter, but either way, let us know and we’ll probably understand. We’ll just need to write about it afterwards.

So there you have it—a few hard and fast rules for dating a writer. But as much as I like to tease them, the writers in my life are some of the best people I’ve ever known (myself included). You’ll constantly benefit from their close eye for details and grammar lessons, and you’ll wonder how you managed without 6,000 pens scattered across every surface of your home. I sincerely wish you the best of luck dating your writer, and I bet you $10 you get a book dedicated to you.


In Search of the Monstrous

Monster Portraits by Del and Sofia Samatar is by far one of the most interesting books I’ve read in 2018. I had the good fortune to stumble upon it at a signing at the Association of Writers & Writing Programs conference (AWP), and I’m very grateful that I did. The book resists being fit into any box, which makes any summary painfully anemic, but here goes: Monster Portraits is a speculative memoir that explores living in a world where one is perpetually othered. In this exploration, Sofia’s text tracks in two directions at once. On the one hand, the book is a not-quite-straightforward bestiary/travelogue detailing the process of seeking out and coming to know each of the monsters it describes. On the other, this external process of finding and coming to know the monsters of the book points inward toward understanding the multi-faceted nature of the self. Sofia’s text is accompanied throughout by Del’s illustrations.

This mixture of prose and illustration becomes a high-wire act that could easily have fallen short of its ambitious aims, but Del and Sofia work together to pull the task off beautifully. The text itself creates its own need for this illustrated element: “Most monsters, I have read, have a horror of the camera, but will allow their portraits to be drawn by hand.” This mediated experience of the monstrous is crucial to the book’s success. We do not find them out in the wild as something to experience purely as an other, but rather, our experience of the monsters in this text can only come through the text—through the author.

In this vein we see the external experience brought in to the Samatars’ own lives, translated from fictional encounters with fantastic beasts into a speculative memoir. The Samatars present their own experience, not directly, not through the steady gaze of prose, but at a slant. In so doing, they create their account and a mirror for readers to consider their own otherness. A mirror that not only reflects the reader’s experience through the Samatars’ but that can provide a field guide to a life. And “a mirror becomes architecture when you pass to the other side: this is what we had understood as children.”

You can pick up Monster Portraits from Rose Metal Press here.

Summer Reads with Blue Mesa Review

The first day of the semester at the University of New Mexico is today, but the staff at Blue Mesa Review isn’t quite ready to let go of the summer. Check out our recommendations to read over your lunch break, between classes, alt-tabbed in the background of your computer at work, or just when you have a little downtime at the end of the day.


Ari McGuirk, Fiction Editor

I’m a short story writer. Always have been, always will be.

It might not make much sense, then, that I haven’t read a single novel or short story collection this summer. Instead, I’ve immersed myself wholly into the world of nonfiction.

Like many fledging fiction writers, my short stories were inspired by people I’ve known, places I’ve lived or visited, or events I’ve witnessed. Fiction became a hiding place—a space from which I could tell my story without genuinely claiming it as mine. This past spring, a workshop infected me with the nonfiction bug, and I’ve been hooked since.

But because I’d dedicated my energy to fiction for so long, nonfiction seemed intimidating—a genre that demands accountability, that prohibits sloppy or incomplete rendering of real people, their flaws and their triumphs. I’d posit that fiction warrants the same, but the difference is that nonfiction forces the writer to simultaneously be character and narrator: no more hiding.

So, this summer, I’ve tried to read writers that are each doing something different with the genre. Roxanne Gay’s Bad Feminist, Tobias Wolff’s In Pharaoh’s Army and This Boy’s Life, every piece in Best American Essays 2017 curated by Leslie Jamison, Elizabeth Kadetsky’s First There is a Mountain and others. These are only a handful of books and essays that continue to show me what this genre can do, and I recommend each of them with enthusiasm.


Tori Cárdenas, Poetry Editor

This summer, I caught up on all of The New Yorker issues that I didn’t have time to read during the spring semester. Much to my disappointment, I found that most of their poets are the same poets who have always been published: white, predominantly heterosexual and cisgender, male authors. I didn’t see many voices like mine. Did they not have value?

To process some of my indignation, I returned to James Baldwin’s collection, Notes of a Native Son. Baldwin’s honest examination of his own emotions surrounding persistent and brutal racial violence helped me to acknowledge and trust the part of myself that is…well, pissed off. His work’s relevance today almost makes it worse—very little has actually changed for the better. We are still suffering.

In many minority/marginalized communities, we are encouraged not to express our frustration with the injustices surrounding us. We are discouraged from taking pride in our identities or finding value in our experiences. Sometimes, the cage of silence is for our own safety. But a place for the flame of outrage and change exists—it is here. It is now.

I also saw Sorry to Bother You, which is a whole other level of “Is this seriously the world we are living in right now?”

Go see that, too.


Ryan W. Murphy, Nonfiction Editor

This summer I’ve been focusing on reading poetry. I highly recommend Allison Parrish’ amazing collection Articulations. The poetry in this volume was composed by an algorithm Parrish designed, pulling language from every work of poetry published through Project Gutenberg and assembling it through a process that is beyond my ability to describe well.

Terrance Hayes’ American Sonnets for my Past and Future Assassin was an absolute punch across the jaw. I read the book in a single sitting in a coffee shop, promising myself every so often, “Just one more section,” and then inevitably found myself at the end of the book. I do not remember the last time that a collection of poetry laid me low the way Hayes’ book did.

Finally, I’ve been working my way through Mark Z. Danielewski’s intimidating novel Only Revolutions. Like all of Danielewski’s work, this book is formally impressive. At its most basic, the novel contains two stories narrated in something between free verse and stream-of-consciousness. In order to read these two stories, the reader will flip the book over every eight pages, reading from each end simultaneously. And the formal fireworks only begin there.


Mitch Marty, Managing Editor

Over the summer I amassed a book list for the upcoming semester, and despite sticking my nose into a couple books (Ceremony by Leslie Marmon Silko, Women Who Run With The Wolves: Myths and Stories of the Wild Woman Archetype by Clarisa Pinkola Estés), I made little progress reading anything. Because of how much I read during the semester and reading for our Summer Contest, I haven’t been able to sit still long enough to read anything else. For me, the summer is about exploring and writing. As the summer break comes to a close though, I steadily changed my course, still opting to deviate from the list for the semester to dive into The Recovering by Leslie Jamison. It’s phenomenally tragic, brutally honest, masterfully written, and fueling the nonfiction I’m writing in the way that only a great book can.


Hayley Peterson, Editor in Chief

The Rules Do Not Apply by Ariel Levy

I’ve been craving memoir this summer. I just want to read about how someone else makes sense of their life, you know? So I picked up The Rules Do Not Apply by Ariel Levy at Powell’s City of Books while I was in Portland visiting family, and then read it in about 36 hours (and I’m a slow reader). I’ve read a lot of Levy’s reportage in The New Yorker, which I love, but there’s something so special about an author sharing her life on the page—the messy parts, the loving parts, the painful parts—that helps me remember why I write, and why I read.

A great memoir makes me feel I’ve connected with someone else in the world. If you’re feeling at all lonely, read a memoir; if your feelings about sexuality, gender, and love are making you feel lonely, read THIS memoir.

Going Digital

Mitch Marty Editor Photo

Mitch Marty, Managing Editor

Over the past year, I worked with the 2017 – 2018 Editorial Board to design event posters for our Works in Progress reading series in Albuquerque, read for Blue Mesa Review, and helped our Editor-in-Chief design Issues 36 and 37 of the magazine. When I think about design and how it intersects with my new role as Managing Editor, I can’t help but consider the DIY ethic most artists have to assume in the digital age. A fledgling author cultivating a place for themselves in the writing world has to learn their craft, understand how to navigate the landscape of publication, market themselves, and know a handful of other skills to get their work to all the right people to be read, let alone published. As the designer for Issues 38 and 39, I want to take the burden of wondering how your work will be represented off of your shoulders.

Our transition from a print to digital format in 2010 has impacted the way we approach every issue of Blue Mesa Review. The chance to publish for a wider audience of readers has been critical. Our readership has grown with each issue as a direct result of eliminating the cost barrier to access the print publication. Through online publication, we can now see different metrics of how many people are reading, how long they are reading for, and where they’re reading from (geographically), in a way that we could never gauge in print, which helps us to determine how to engage readers in new ways from issue to issue, while focusing more on each piece we receive from submitters.

Each year, someone new steps into the role of designer and is able to take their own approach to the magazine’s layout. I’ve thought about what has worked in previous issues and have made decisions on how to improve or change the magazine based on this evolutionary cycle from one editor to the next. Although I like my lit mags to have a clean, simple design with consistent style markers to orient readers, I think lit mag designs work best when they also engage through use of partial and full-spread images, pull quotes, and other formatting features that aren’t necessarily as cost-effective for print magazines on a small budget.

One point of focus regarding the layout of future issues of Blue Mesa Review is how readers can engage with its form in a way that highlights the content. Is it effective to hyperlink from the table of contents directly to a piece within the issue? Of course. From an author’s or artist’s name to their bio? Yes. Both of these small but important changes make the magazine more navigable, and therefore more accessible to a wider range of readers. Although it’s difficult to develop a design that balances consistency, utility, accessibility, and engagement, while considering how these function with the content of the magazine, that’s my goal for the next year with the release of our Fall and Spring issues.

In addition to layout and formatting, I’ll also be on the hunt for great artwork that compliments the nonfiction, poetry, and fiction submissions that we select for each issue. Because we choose art that works in conjunction with each piece, and cover art that highlights the overarching feel of the issue, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all prescription for what we accept. If you are a visual artist or have friends who are, head over to our Submittable for the specific requirements to submit.

I can’t wait to read your submissions, peruse your art, and get to work designing the next issue of Blue Mesa Review to share with our readers.

On Stepping in as Fiction Editor and Advice to Our Submitters

Ari McGuirk, Fiction Editor

Ari McGuirk, Fiction Editor

I’m extremely lucky to be Blue Mesa Review’s new Fiction Editor. I have the good fortune of immersing myself in the worlds you’ve created through your stories. The writing world is a community of talented, tenacious artists, and that I’ve found myself in a leadership role of sorts within this pocket of the community is something I take seriously. Each story is a new mystery to solve, a unique conflict to navigate, an opportunity to learn something about people.

Our magazine receives a staggering number of fiction submissions, and for me, that’s enthralling, because every story contains the possibility of showing me something I’ve never seen. But often, stories with monster potential are still a draft or two away from publication, or simply haven’t done enough to stand apart from other submissions. So how can you make your story stand out in a submission pool this large?

For starters, the basics matter. Standing out through fresh prose or scintillating dialogue is one thing. Doing so through over-the-top cover letters is another. We don’t read them prior to reading your submissions, so you’re better off spending your energy revising your draft rather than trying to sell us on the story via the cover letter. Times New Roman, 12 pt, double-spaced manuscripts are what I prefer, and you should take care to read and follow our submission guidelines.

When someone asks me to tell them what a story is about, I inevitably wind up describing its characters. Characterization is paramount. I’m not interested in labeling characters as “likable” or “unlikable.” I deeply admire writers who, instead, show me the varied possibilities for human behavior. Unshackle your characters. Do not keep them neatly tucked away, safe and removed from the conflict’s stakes. Let their flaws and desires drive the story’s plot. Have them take you where they want to go, not where you want them to wind up. I like being able to answer two questions when I can’t get a character out of my head: what makes them interesting and why do I care about them?

Above all, I gravitate toward stories with heart. It’s no secret that our current political climate is chaotic, haphazard, turbulent. I’m of the mind that every piece of writing is inherently political. So, to me, it makes sense that stories published today depict characters grappling with the many social dilemmas in our society as they are manifesting today. Show me these conflicts under new, fresh lights through the senses of characters with flawed, genuine humanity.

Lastly, thank you. Your writing and readership make this magazine possible. Reading your stories is a joy and I can’t thank you enough for submitting them. Your efforts make this Fiction Editor position exciting and rewarding. Best of luck with your submissions.

The Strange Beating Heart of the Thing

Ryan W. Murphy, Nonfiction Editor

Ryan W. Murphy, Nonfiction Editor

I was a reader long before I became a writer. Diving into a book an entire pile of books—ok my house is full of books—has always been the animating factor in my life. Whether I’m reading poetry, a history of some moment far off in time and place, or the careful exploration of a character, the best writing has the power to set the world still for a time and engross its reader in its own beautiful particularities. As the new Nonfiction Editor of Blue Mesa Review, I want to read submissions that ground me in the reality of your story and make me forget about my own.

The best nonfiction submissions will have moments that shine a brilliant gleam of light from an angle I’ve never experienced. Nonfiction provides a pathway into this that no other genre can. Each moment layers the strange particularities of this world on top of themselves. The earthly is made unearthly. This defamiliarization has the same effect on me that a strange noise might have on a dog. My head tips to the side, all life pauses around me, and then I can return to the world—some new experience in hand, shaping how I read my own life. I want to read your submissions that have this power to change the way our readers see the world.

Content, however, is not the only place where I love to see nonfiction push into new territory. I am a sucker for formal experimentation. The prose block is a solid shape. It’s served writing well for centuries and no doubt will for centuries to come. But there are so many possibilities to write into new forms, new shapes. I do not simply want writing to ask questions about its subject matter. I want it to seriously contemplate the way that its structure engages with that subject. Don’t just ask yourself “What do I want to say?” Ask how your piece wants to be said. Can your essay take the form of a furnace repair manual? Could you write lyrical prose that borrows its shape from that interminable stretch of paper at the bottom of a certain unnamed pharmacy’s receipt? Be ambitious, challenge my understanding of what an essay can be, can look like, can do. I want to read the forms that I cannot imagine as I sit here writing this.

I don’t want to just read your strange heart, I want to understand it.

Life is far too short for the safety and detachment that irony gives us. Write toward your strangeness, write toward your unique experience of the world. Wherever that writing leads you, I can’t wait to read your work.

Poems Need Teeth

Tori Cárdenas, Poetry Editor

Tori Cárdenas, Poetry Editor

As the new Poetry Editor of Blue Mesa Review, my goal is to look for poetry that is both well-built and takes risks. I’m anxious (in all kinds of ways) to continue the pattern of publishing excellent poetry, and I want to do my best to serve Blue Mesa’s legacy. As for what I’m looking for, I want to uphold the standard of powerful work that previous editors have chosen over the years.

I believe a poem should be greater than the sum of its parts. Imagery, narrative, and strong diction give a poem a good backbone. These things are important. But craft and form can either become a strong exoskeleton or a cage. A poem needs to find the body it will inhabit. It will develop its arms in enjambment, its ground speed in rhythm, the span of its scope in temporality. And once the poem has been given a body, give it breath. And give it teeth.

Give it teeth that sink into someone and refuse to let go. An evolved poem has a nose like a bulldog so it can clamp on and still breathe. Its jaw muscles and nasal cavities must be developed over time—to make it an apex predator, to give it the best chance to succeed in the ecosystem of poetry that it has been born into. Revision and evolution are key to putting your poem at the top of the food chain.

But a good poem also adapts to the ecosystem around it. Poetry has always been the internal language of human beings. Whether it’s music, spoken word, chapbooks or epics, poetry has flowed through us for millennia, connecting us to one another’s experiences, tapping us into universal human truths, sharing lessons and bestowing wisdom. We love movies because they are story and image, but poetry used to be our main vehicle for expression and connection. How do we do that now, in an atmosphere that dismisses art and poetry? In a world where the written word is monitored and censored? How can poems evolve past words on a page to have a life of their own?

A poem should be conscious. Poetry should be aware of the climate of the world we live in and reflect it in a way that disrupts our preconceptions. A poem, whether it dodges or takes a bullet, should teach us something about how to survive. How to flourish. Poetry is what reminds us that we are human. Poetry is what brings us together.

I’m constantly looking for ways to do this in my own work, but I look for it in others’ poetry as well. I look for poetry that corners me, poetry that I can’t stop thinking about. I look for poetry that begs to be shown and shared with others, so that it can latch onto them, too. When I recall the lessons that a poem taught me, or relate it to a feeling or a moment I’ve felt in my own life, then I know I did not escape from it. I know that others have had or will have that same experience. This is how poetry unites people, by expressing something that we don’t have the words to say ourselves, and connecting us over borders, tangible and perceived.

Now that you have an idea of what I’m looking for, please send me your best work. I can’t wait to be bitten.