How Mary Karr’s The Art of Memoir Changed the Way I Think About Writing

As a nonfiction writer, I oftentimes *dream* about my finished memoir, face-out in chain bookstores across the globe. Then I start thinking of the people who I’m writing into my work who will read said book, and I’m crushed by anxiety/guilt/nervousness. Common questions that my mind loops include (but are not limited to): What will happen if so-and-so reads this? Will they be hurt? Will they agree with what I wrote? Will my mother/father disown me?

I’ve contemplated tattooing Anne Lamott’s famous quote, “You own everything that happened to you. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better,” on the back of my hand so I can read it over and over while I type. But it doesn’t make me feel better about possibly hurting anyone’s feelings. (I’m a 2 on the enneagram, if you’re wondering who your narrator is).

The Art of Memoir by Mary Karr (Book Cover)All this changed for me last fall, when I read The Art of Memoir by Mary Karr. Something inside me has always resisted the idea of books about writing books, but this one changed my mind. I read the whole thing—cover to cover—pen in hand, underlining a quarter of the text, and about 75% of the chapter, Dealing with Beloveds (On and Off the Page). Karr shares her process for managing her loved ones’ feelings about being included in her work in generous and thoughtful steps, 11 of them to be exact! Two of my favorites include a Herbert Selby quote, “If you’re writing about someone you hate, do it with great love,” and never claim authority over how people truly felt. Karr also recommends sharing parts of your work with the subjects on the page, especially if you think it “might make them wince.”

Easily influenced by all things I consume, I followed Karr’s advice by sharing a chapter of my manuscript with my sister over the summer. The best thing happened—she laughed when I poked fun at her credit score! “This is all sad, but true,” she said.

It felt pretty damn good. I can only write from my perspective. And I can only be honest. And be loving. But I own my story, so I get to write it.

An Interview with Idris Goodwin

Idris Goodwin, author of Can I Kick It?

Idris Goodwin taught for several years at my undergraduate alma mater before shifting to theater full-time. I was always disappointed I never got to have him as a professor (he started after I graduated), but luckily Idris has been out here doing the work. There’s no shortage of ways to learn from him. He has a Pushcart-nominated collection These are the Breaks. He co-wrote Inauguration with Nico Wilkinson; the book won a 2017 Literary Arts Award from the Pikes Peak Arts Council. He’s been on Sesame Street and HBO’s Def Jams. He has written and produced more plays than I can list here. He wrote a monologue for the Hands Up: 7 Playwrights, 7 Testaments collection that responded to police brutality and particularly the murders of Michael Brown and John Crawford. He most recently adapted the Young Adult novel Ghost by Jason Reynolds for the stage.

His newest project is the poetry collection Can I Kick It? (after the A Tribe Called Quest song of the same name). This book is part homage to rap and sampling in hip hop, part celebration of Black art and life, part indictment of the difficulties of living in a Black body in America. It’s a book you don’t want to miss.

You call yourself a “break beat poet”. What does that mean? 

So Break Beat Poetry emerged during one of my many conversations with fellow poet Kevin Coval, who like me came up on 80s and 90s hip hop. For us hip hop was our gateway to a deeper engagement with the poetic. But make no mistake, we were interested in a poetic that felt like the rap ciphers we participated in.

Since hip hop music, whose foundation is the break beat, was the spark and fire for us, Slam Poet didn’t quite apply, nor did Hip Hop poet or any other labels. We wanted to define ourselves.

I put out an album in 2010 called Break Beat Poems, I wrote an essay in my 2011 book called Break Beat Poetry, How We Got On, the first in my series of Break Beat Plays premiered in 2012 and a few years ago the first Break Beat Poets Anthology was released on Haymarket Books. There have been two more since and there are two more on the way. And more and more  poets of color such as Jose Olivarez, and Camonghne Felix are seeing their books published under that imprint.

How does writing from a history of hip-hop make you think about the line in poetry differently than most poets would? 

I appreciate the direct intimacy of the reader and the writer but first and foremost I write for sound and rhythm and audience. What can I say that will engage and hold the ear for the duration?

And I want the line on the page to reflect the way in which I’d recite it.

How did you decide whose work/which snippets of pop culture to sample? Did the idea of the book as a whole grow out of the idea of sampling? 

One day I realized that every time I crafted some pithy remark on social media I was basically giving away content. Perhaps there is more to say that 140 characters cannot contain? And every single time, that pithy remark would transform conceptually into something more specific, personal and complicated.

I’ve never been comfortable with the idea that somehow pop culture is separate, or only lives in the silo of entertainment. It’s about us, whether they get it right or they don’t. What does the popularity of superhero films say about us? What do all of these icons and symbols say about us? And what was the pop that raised me? What does it say about me?

Pop is the accumulated consciousness. But also artistically, by drawing from the creative landscapes of these icons and touchstones, allows me to pull from everything that was on their aesthetic palette.

That’s what sampling is about—I’m in conversation with another artist but also the people that influenced them, that they “sampled” from in their own way.

I’ve been to a lot of bad events that try to take on how poetry and hip-hop are similar or do similar things. People really struggle to talk about this, but I think your book does a beautiful job of making similarities clear, particularly in the poem “Break Down” After Kurtis Blow.  Here you use the common “after” style to indicate that you are riffing on Blow’s style. If the reader knows hip-hop or does a little research, they will realize that you’re riffing on his song “The Breaks”. You’re essentially sampling his song in a blazing indictment of white people wearing blackface. It’s a really masterful way to create an emblematic piece that shows how poetry and hip-hop are related. How did this poem come about? 

I often say “Sometimes the poem writes itself”. Once I read that quote from Mark Herring I was like, “Come on, there’s only one way this piece can go!” Kurtis Blow himself was a poet, so it was a no brainer. You got blackface and old school rap?! Poetry Gods sent me a gift!

Several of the poems at the end of the collection are beautiful and difficult poems about being Black in America. This is a thread that is present throughout the book, but I think it was really important you ended on this painful reality, especially in a book about Black art. Too often American society wants what Black people create but not to hear about the struggle of racism. Did you set out to end with the poem “Breaking Sweat”?

I think that’s spot on, Brenna! Black Art has been not only the production of objects–its been the mode of survival. The songs served as veiled maps of escape. The poetry as protest and rallying cry. It was illegal for black folks to read and write so the first published book by Phyliss Wheatly in the late 1700s was illegal! There were spaces black musicians could and couldn’t play and for a long time the places they could play, only white folks could attend. Fast forward now, we’re having conversations about inclusion in creative spaces, writing rooms, publishing houses, theatres, etc.

There is still a chasm to fill. I believe I was chosen by my ancestors to tell the stories best I can, with as much precision, heart and hope as possible. So that is what I do even when it’s painful. Even when there is a voice in my head saying, “you’re just going to bum everyone out with this.”

In addition to the poetry books you’ve published, you’re also an acclaimed playwright. How does your work in theater impact your poetry or vice versa? 

There is no theatre without poetry. Poetry is the root of all creative, non literal expressions. The actors are poets, scenic, lighting and costume designers are poets, dancers are poets, DJs are poets.

Certainly all the amazing actors I work with have shown me a thing or two about how to make something feel new every time. I used to find doing the same poems more than 12 times laborious. But now I am happy to do poems like Say My Name or These Are The Breaks until folks are tired of hearing them.  Theatre has shown me ways to keep things exciting and interesting for myself.

You’ve said you are “committed to using the arts to cultivate more diverse and equitable spaces for all.” How do you see art being used to create equity outside of artistic spaces in the larger world? 

I work in the realm of live performance primarily. You can galvanize groups of people from different walks into the same space, then show them something that awakens their sense of humanity, curiosity, empathy and passion. We need that badly. We have never been so connected and yet ironically, we’re very isolated, splintered and terrified. We have to play a part in healing and reconnecting us.

The Break Beat Poetry/Play movement is about bringing communities together through storytelling. Very very dynamic poetic culturally specific and honest storytelling. But we position the story at the center, not the storyteller if that makes sense. The listener is in the cipher with us. It’s about the collected perspectives coalesced in the middle of the cipher, and if we listen close enough and let the stories do their work—that’s how we evolve.

Advice to Young Writers

One of the things I’ve repeated to writing
students is that they should write when they don’t
feel like writing, just sit down and start,
and when it doesn’t go very well, to press on then

I thought about this poem, Ron Padgett’s “Advice to Young Writers,” a lot over the summer—especially during my nightly Netflix binges of Sugar Rush or Orange is the New Black. Midway through one of these viewings, I’d get a nagging feeling—I got to get off this couch and start writing because if I don’t this manuscript will never get completed. Eventually, I get up. I sit at the desk and I try to make something that will satisfy my intentions as a writer. Sometimes beautiful things will come out. Other times it’s like scrolling through a procession of hot-word garbage. Lately, nothing has been coming out—I’ll type a few words, erase, type again. By the end of the session, I’ll be looking at a blank page. In truth, I do not want to ‘press on.’ I simply wish to sit on the couch sandwiched between my partner and dog and enjoy some mind-numbing television together like a family. But I don’t think that’s how Don’t Call Us Dead or Unaccompanied got written.

Writing is the only way I know how to discuss my experiences growing up in rural Mexico. However, I feel that the activity of writing gets in the way of other aspects of my life that are just as valuable—something as monotonous as watching television with a loved one.

My uncle passed away over the summer— a hardworking welder who shaped my family’s future. I haven’t been able to thoroughly process his death because I am too busy writing about myself. It sounds weird and selfish, but it is ultimately my truth. I would have liked to just sit on the couch with him one last time, watch Sabado Gigante and ask him how he was doing. Since his death, I have begun doubting the merit of my own writing and been focusing on my selfishness. Why do I write if not for people like my Tio? What would my uncle have done in my place? Would he have pressed on, nose against the computer screen and finished the piece, or returned to his family to enjoy a little bit of time together?

I began to realize how important stepping away from the page can be and to simply enjoy the monotony while it lasts. In the last couple of months, I have submitted three pieces for publication—which is considerably less writing than I am accustomed to. Perhaps, what I have accomplished this summer is sitting down with my mother, talking and getting to understand who my uncle was when he was a boy in Mexico. Maybe it’s okay to not write that great poem or story tonight. Maybe it’s okay to take breaks, to process how you are feeling and how you are affecting those around you.

It’s alright, students, not
to write. Do whatever you want. As long as you find
that unexpected something, or even if you don’t.

The Colonial Complex in Literary Submissions

Owning a culture is problematic. That is one of the fundamental flaws of white power. Many of the authors we read as editors believe witnessing, visiting and experiencing implies ownership. For example, because I was there for the birth of my child does not mean I can speak for – or rather, own – the female experience of childbirth. Likewise, just because someone watches Disney’s Coco and takes a trip to Cancun does not certify them as Mexican. That is to say, when a white author speaks with a voice of ownership as it pertains to another culture and then filters that ideal through the lens of power, that text inherently becomes whitewashed. As readers of a prominent literary journal, in a white majority slush pile, we are forced to endure countless assimilationist submissions.

We enter whitewashed universes that promote the constant fetishization of Asian culture via the “spiritual” white experience of yoga. How can an entire story base itself around yoga and not include one minority character? We wander across western plazas with characters whose described appearances could only be explained as caricatures of Native American culture. Likewise – like a broken record – the white, middle-class, high-school character arc seems to be the most common basis of plot. Perhaps, these high-brow narratives have stepped away from the brown boyfriends being hyper-masculinized and the black boyfriends toxically sexualized. However, exoticizing a minority student to give the white, middle-class, high school character the identity they so desperately crave is arguably just as toxic.

White authors, can you please stop going on vacation! Editors cannot take the magic of your inherently white experience in these places. Unless you are writing commentary about characters at Burning Man or Coachella, take a pass on appropriating someone else’s culture and romantically writing about your inauthentic, mixed tribe, pseudo-Native head dress and howlite (fake turquoise) jewelry. Remember, just because you went to a Native American casino does not classify you to be the voice of Andrew Jackson’s Trail of Tears.

This does not mean you should include a simple disclaimer – I AM A WHITE MALE or FEMALE OF PRIVILEDGE AND AM ABOUT TO SPEAK FOR MEXICAN FEMINITY – that is immediately abandoned; rather, write with the awareness that the culture you are writing about is something that is shared with you. You do not own it. You cannot manipulate it. And you will never sell it as purely authentic. Acknowledge that your experience is true, only for you, not for the collective culture. Therefore, if you ever visit Jamaica you do not become the owner of the Rastafari voice and you do not have to come back smoking weed, wearing beanies, and growing out your dreads. Be authentic to yourself and I will not forget after I visit The Wizarding World of Harry Potter in California that I did not attend Hogwarts and I am not of English descent.

The real issue seems to be fear. Minority authors are afraid they will be avidly rejected because of the last names on their submissions, and often that still happens. However, as it comes to journals you would actually be proud to have your work in, editors welcome authors’ voices that are not inherently cursed with the colonial complex. On the other spectrum, most white authors believe that without a minority culture they wouldn’t have a culture of their own. Yet, too often this fetishization and exoticization leads to unconscious assimilation. Minority authors, it is time to lose your fear and just PRESS SEND. Save future readers and editors from insurmountable submissions filled with cultural appropriation and let us hear your voices instead.

Blue Mesa Review: 30 Years and Counting

rudolfo anaya

Rudolfo Anaya

Blue Mesa Review was founded by Rudolfo Anaya in 1989. Anaya, a Creative Writing instructor at the time, wanted a space for New Mexican and Southwestern writers to publish their work while helping creative writing students gain experience in the publishing industry. With this goal in mind, Anaya approached the Dean, and said out of the clear blue sky, “Can you give me $5,000 and we’ll do a literary magazine everyone will be proud of? It’s a logical outgrowth of our Creative Writing program.” This magazine would be a way to develop not only writers in the program, but also writers in the reading and writing communities that surrounded the university.

The Dean said yes, and we’ve been going ever since.

These 30 years have been ones of learning. Reading submissions, copy editing, contacting authors—all of these duties and more are handled by the Blue Mesa staff, which includes graduate editors, a faculty advisor, and our team of graduate and undergraduate readers. But they have also been years of storytelling and connecting, both through the development of our own work and craft, and the work we as editors select for the magazine. The tradition of sharing and exchanging through voice, tradition, and craft is what has made Blue Mesa Review the literary platform it is today.

Blue Mesa Review Issue 5

Blue Mesa Review Issue 5

From faculty editors, including David Johnson, Marisa P. Clark, and Julie Shigekuni, to student editors, like Steve Howe and Hayley Peterson (our last two EICs), Blue Mesa Review’s baton has been passed down through UNM’s Creative Writing ranks for 30 years. And in our 30 years and soon-to-be 40 issues, our contributors have included Jimmy Santiago Baca, Sandra Cisneros, Joy Harjo, Sherwin Bitsui, and other top-notch writers. Blue Mesa Review’s history of publication has boasted strong and diverse line-ups, and those voices have brought their identities, cultures, and creativity to an international arena through BMR. Whatever role we have played in Blue Mesa Review—editor, author, reader—each of us has contributed to a tradition of storytelling, cultural identity, and craft.

As a landscape of intersectionality and diversity, the Southwest is the perfect place for beautiful intersectional art to grow, and we are here to help tend those roots in our community and beyond, into the global cultural and literary community. At Blue Mesa Review, we will continue to support and publish voices of the Southwest and the world at large, and foster connections between our academic circle and the rich literary traditions of Albuquerque and New Mexico. Here’s to another 30 years.


Blue Mesa Review Staff

Would you like to be featured in the 30th Anniversary Issue (Issue 40) of Blue Mesa Review? There’s still time to submit to the 2019 Summer Contest! For full information, please check out our Submittable:

Summer Reads with Blue Mesa Review

Classes are back in full swing at the University of New Mexico, but we’re not quite ready to let summer go. Keep reading to find out what each of our editors recommends you pick up from their summer reading list!

Tori Cárdenas – Editor in Chief

This summer, I’ve been reading Michelle McNamara’s I’ll Be Gone in the Dark to prepare for my comprehensive exams. I first heard about the Golden State Killer on my favorite podcast’s very first episode, My Favorite Murder. It’s the first true crime book I’ve read front to back—partly because true crime has always frightened me, but also because McNamara’s style of writing is so compelling (Karen and Georgia are also the funniest ladies on the planet, so that helped too).

McNamara employs these immersive POV shifts that connected me emotionally with the action, but still let me keep a detective’s objective distance when it got to be too much; she echoes these chilling metaphors and images throughout the text, creating tension and a nagging paranoia. This book is helping to give a depth and substance to my dissertation that I couldn’t have developed on my own, and I’m glad I overcame my fear of true crime enough to read it. I also recently moved into a new house and am currently suspicious of everyone.

Check out I’ll be Gone in the Dark by Michelle McNamara here:

Mario Montoya – Fiction Editor

Recently, a good friend (and BMR Associate Editor) Mitch Marty, gifted me a book that I can’t set down. Anybody who grew up bumping rap in the nineties will feel the same. It’s called Go Ahead in the Rain by Hanif Abdurraqib, his third, and it focuses on exactly what it says on the cover: “It is a love letter to a group, a sound and an era.”

The group is A Tribe Called Quest, the highly influential rap collective from Queens, New York, that changed the sound of rap forever, introducing a hip-hop, jazz fusion. For rap fans who experienced “The Golden Era” of rap, ATCQ’s music is considered a soundtrack to that time, a blueprint of sorts. And Abdurraqib takes us through his own fandom, from childhood to young adulthood, alongside the rise and sudden fall of one of rap’s most iconic groups.

Check out Go Ahead in the Rain by Hanif Abdurraqib here:

Michelle Gurule – Nonfiction Editor

The first book I jumped into off my summer reading list was Danzy Senna’s, New People. The novel is set in Brooklyn and follows soon to be married interracial couple, Maria and Khalil, on a bit of a downward spiral. Senna tackles race, identity, stereotypes, lust, and—what I perceived as the sort of existential restlessness of being a 27-year-old woman—through wickedly smart characters and hilarious subplots, which are both true to life and occasionally so outlandish (and yet, totally plausible) that I couldn’t be pulled away. New People is equal parts comedy and wit, which, as a humor writer, I find to be a challenging balance to bring to the page. I loved this novel for its premise and craft. There is so much to learn from Danzy Senna.

Check out New People by Danzy Senna here:

Darren Donate – Poetry Editor

The books that stood out to me the most over the course of my summer-reading were Ocean Vuong’s On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous and Maurice Manning’s One Man’s Dark. I believe that Vuong’s work pushes the language of the contemporary novel to its absolute edge—it’s impactful, but not ornamentary. There are no dull moments in On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous and I hope to be able to teach it in the classroom one day.

One Man’s Dark is a testament to Manning’s vision of Kentucky. Reading Manning’s poetry had me reflect on hyper-regionalism (and its representation) in contemporary poetics. Manning is able to capture his roots with poise, empathy, and humor—something that I wish to capture in my own writing. And now that I have One Man’s Dark in my hands, I have a model I can endlessly learn from.

Check out On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong here:
Check out One Man’s Dark by Maurice Manning here:

Seth Garcia – Poetry Editor

This summer (read: my whole life) I’ve been coping with my anxiety by reading poetry. I finally picked up Leaves of Grass in honor of Whitman’s bicentennial birthday. Forrest Gander’s Be With was also a sad and memorable collection.

And yet, one of the most impressive standouts has been Shane McCrae’s The Gilded Auction Block. Apart from being a poetry-producing machine (this guy churns out a book every other year like clockwork) McCrae writes some of the most syntactically interesting work today.

In stuttering language which masterfully mimics both the Trumpian rhetorical style and the distressed mind of one who has to put up with it, McCrae pays homage (read: brilliant critique) to the present moment. Whether in poems examining his past experiences with his neo-Nazi grandmother, or fantasizing about what death would look like if God turned out to be aligned with our dogmatic administration, McCrae proves (like all other great poets) that the personal is political.

Check out Leaves of Grass here:
Check out Be With by Forrest Gander here:
Check out The Gilded Auction Block by Shane McCrae here:

Ari McGuirk – Managing Editor

I read twelve books this summer to prepare for my comprehensive exams and for a seminar I’m taking this fall. Memoirs, essay collections, novels, and even a comic—they begged me to reconsider the limitations I’d placed on my own project. But one stood out to me above all others: Tommy Orange’s There, There.

This novel weaves over a dozen character arcs together with stunning precision. Each line drips with voice while juggling numerous points of view. Orange’s characters are flawed, winning, fully fleshed, human. More importantly, they’re all native peoples. As the book points out, too often people have antiquated notions, based in stereotypes, of what it means to live as a native person in this country. Orange banishes those colonialist ideas into oblivion, writing his characters and their struggles as they exist in modernity, all the while reminding his readers of the history of native peoples on this continent.

Check out There, There by Tommy Orange here:

Mitch Marty – Associate Editor

Love, death, and taxidermy. Or Mostly Dead Things. If I left it at just the title, the vibrant green cover with its stark pink flamingo would be enough to entice a fair number of people, but Kristen Arnett packs worlds into this novel set in a central Florida town that feels on the edge of ruin. The narrator, a queer taxidermist named Jessa-Lynn, finds her father splayed out in the back of their family shop with a suicide note that tasks her with keeping her family together. The broken family dynamic, the haze of cheap beer, and the dilapidated state of the town not only reminded me of life in the rural Midwest, but about how place becomes a character in its own right and drives a compelling thread of this story that borders on leaving, staying, a sense of obligation, and an inability to escape from yourself and your choices.

Grief, history, and death cling to these pages like the thick humidity of Florida’s summer. They could be as suffocating as the smell of roadkill once the sun breaks over the asphalt, but Arnett creates such a fantastic web through the narrative of these chapters as they bounce between the present and the past that I kept wanting to see what fresh kill might be stuffed next in the back of the family shop, what new hybrid display of sex and taxidermy crafted by Jessa’s mother might appear in the gallery across town, and how the burden of family might be rectified.

Check out Mostly Dead Things by Kristen Arnett here:

Lastly, don’t forget to submit your work! We only have eleven days left of our Summer Contest judged by Jake Skeets, Lesley Arimah, and Francisco Cantú. To get an idea of what we’ve published previously and what we might be looking for, make sure to read over the editor blogs that we’ve been publishing since June first and check out our most recent publications on our website.


Mitch Marty Editor Photo

Mitch Marty, Associate Editor

Over the last couple months of blogs, a few of the new editors have hit on the recurring theme of looking back at the roots of Blue Mesa Review with our founder Rudolfo Anaya’s original vision for the magazines in mind. I’ve been thinking about how to pull in a renewed focus on the Southwest while transitioning from Managing Editor to Associate Editor. I’ve also spent a lot of time thinking about home. What that looks like. What it feels like. The types of stories that represent the feeling of a place more as a character than as a backdrop.

For me, the heart of the heart of the country is the open road. It’s most vivid in low elevations with high humidity, rolling hills with expansive dreams misplaced in the burgeoning farmlands of the Midwest. It’s where I was born and raised, but I know it doesn’t look the same to everyone. I see it everywhere I go: in the high desert of Albuquerque as a roadrunner plucks a lizard from the side of a house and darts across Ridgecrest; in the reservoir streaked with sunlight along the Willamette National Forest at dawn in Oregon; in the closed maw of an alligator patiently waiting for a visitor at the Alachua Sink in Florida. In the Southwest, home is in the Sandia sunsets, golden hour clipped with hues of orange and pink like scoops of sherbet in a Tupperware bowl, flecked with watermelon seeds of trees all across the mountains. No matter where you’re from, where you’re going, you can see it, feel it, smell it, if you slow down to let it wash over you. And that’s what I want to read in your work, whether poetry, nonfiction, or fiction. Work whose electric breath radiates a new pulse through my fingertips as my hands rest on the keyboard while I read your submission. Work that tells your story with specificity, like what it means to hear your neighbor blast ”Jumper” by Third Eye Blind at 7:00 am every Sunday morning, stories that speak multitudes. Honest work that balances the dark and light parts of who you are and what you’ve experienced.

As the new Associate Editor, I take care of a lot of work that goes on behind the scenes at Blue Mesa Review. Like last year, I’ll design the new issues of the magazine and create other flyers and promotional material (for the Works in Progress Reading Series in Albuquerque and our table at AWP San Antonio this Spring). I’ll manage and maintain the website, and alongside Ari McGuirk, curate blogs that speak to the Southwest, Literature, Politics, and the landscape where all of these intersect. I’ll read the work you submit as I think about how to best design an issue that reflects the nuances of the work we’ll publish.

I’m also drumming up new ideas for the 30th Anniversary of Blue Mesa Review. If you’ve been following our social media accounts, you’ll already know that we’ve been touring some of the Little Free Libraries around Albuquerque, dropping off back issues of the magazine. And this week, while on a trek back to my homeland in the Midwest to kick up memories for my creative work, I’ve brought a little piece of the Southwest with me. If you can’t make it to Albuquerque to catch the sun set off the Sandias and grab a back issue, you may still be in luck, because I’ll be dropping some off in Little Free Libraries along the way (as far East as Lafayette, Indiana, and as far North as Richland Center, Wisconsin). Make sure you’re following us on Instagram, Twitter, and/or Facebook to see if you might be able to pick up a copy of Blue Mesa Review in your own town.

Lastly, don’t forget to submit your work! We only have a few weeks left of our Summer Contest judged by Jake Skeets, Lesley Arimah, and Francisco Cantú. To get an idea of what we’ve published previously and what we might be looking for, make sure to read over the editor blogs that we’ve been publishing since June first, pick up a back issue from a Little Free Library near you, or check out our most recent publications on our website.

Manage This

Ari McGuirk, Managing Editor

I’m entering my final year of UNM’s MFA program as Blue Mesa Review’s Managing Editor. My editorial responsibilities probably aren’t interesting to someone curious about what to submit to our magazine. Not that I wouldn’t be happy to walk you through my process for complex decisions like “bold or italics?” in meeting minutes. But I think, as a submitter, you’ll likely encounter me as a reader. If I like your submission, I can drop your manuscript in the Genre Editor’s inbox for immediate consideration. And since I write prose, that’s usually what I read from our contest submissions and from the slush pile in the spring (sorry poets).

Like other editors have written, we’re looking for Southwestern voices – what we mean is that we do not want underrepresented writers from this part of the country to feel discouraged from submitting to us. We are Blue Mesa Review, and if you’ve read our EIC Tori’s blog, you’ll know we aim not only to be an Albuquerque-based magazine, but to represent New Mexico nationally and internationally. But if you’re not from here, don’t sweat it – we want to read your work and hear your voice, too. I’m a transplant who has called more than a dozen places home in my not-yet-thirty-years, and I’ve learned that if you show this land the respect it deserves, it will teach you a new beauty.

If you haven’t read Michelle’s thoughts about voice or Mario’s hunger for singularity, for the unique story that only you can tell, you should. And not just because I agree with them. By allowing us to read the individual encounter that you have with reality, either through short story, memoir, flash, or personal essay, you’re generously allowing me to learn more about the world.

I’m not the most complicated reader: I like pieces with high stakes. I like urgency, specificity, sharp dialogue, and lyric conciseness. I like figuring out why the narrator is telling me their story. And if for some reason the piece is not doing what I usually like, I like figuring out why I don’t understand it, and how it’s successful beyond my traditional sensibilities. Show me structure that veers away from the plot pyramid. If you’re using the plot pyramid, great—but make sure to populate it with rich descriptions and interesting characters with intriguing conflicts. Above all, be fearlessly loyal to your vision. Even if we can’t publish your piece this issue, we still admire a genuine voice with a compelling story, and there’s always the next issue.

I’m humbled to be the Managing Editor for the 40th issue of the literary magazine Rudolfo Anaya started thirty years ago. It’s a privilege to read the submissions you share. Your writing and reading make this magazine possible. You probably have a million things to do and a million more after that, yet you took the time to write a piece and send it to us. I think that’s rare and beautiful and I thank you for it, very much.

A Birthday Interview with Jake Skeets

Jake Skeets, Poetry Judge 2019

I’d like to take this opportunity to wish Jake, Nelson Mandela, and myself a Very Happy Birthday. Jake, thanks for being our Poetry Judge, and for doing our BMR Birthday Interview. We’ll do 9 questions, what with 1+8 being 9 and all. Let’s get started.

What is your favorite thing to do on your birthday, and do you get to do that this year?

Happy Birthday! Don’t forget Vin Diesel. We need to wish him a happy birthday as well. I really don’t have any traditions. In undergrad at UNM, I took advantage of free birthday meals. I would have breakfast at Denny’s on Central and then grab a free burger from Red Robin.

The best recent birthday I think was a few years ago when my parents bought me Little Caesers Pizza and a cake. I love Little Caesers. I think the last big birthday celebration was my 21st birthday, which was an absolute blast. I don’t think anything can top that.

I’m spending this birthday in Crownpoint, NM at the Emerging Diné Writers’ Institute. I’m teaching poetry to Diné students and it is quite the honor and a tremendous gift.

How many other people have you met that you share a birthday with? I think my count’s up to four now.

You are the only person I have met and remain in contact with so far. I remember meeting another person at a party once but I don’t remember their name. I feel Cancer season is when we all thrive. I have this sense of freedom for a few weeks around this time. Summer is my favorite season. The best time is when it’s close to 9 at night and you can still see the sun glow at the horizon.

I know we’re not all that old, but is there a slang or trend that makes you feel old?

It’s hard to believe that the huge things for us are now distant pasts. I bring up things like Myspace or 3OH3! to my younger sister and she is like “Wow, you are old.” I mean she knows what I am talking about but there’s a distance.  I would call my past self “almost emo” because I had the hair and I was obsessed with The Postal Service, Paramore, and Death Cab for Cutie.

There are a lot of titles we take on with work and school and everything else, but do you describe yourself/identify as a poet primarily?

I thought hard about this for a long time. In the beginning, I didn’t feel like a poet. Today, however, I know that I am a poet. It wouldn’t be fair to my years of revision and training to call myself anything else first.

I still do feel hesitation, especially being back on the reservation. I feel like the title of “poet” doesn’t have the same meaning as “engineer” or “lawyer.” However, I feel it important to say I am a poet and I am Diné so that perhaps another Diné out there can see themselves represented in poetry. My life changed when I read Luci Tapahonso in high school and we had the amazing opportunity to work with her in undergrad.

If/has a child asked you to describe what you do, how would/did you explain it to them?

I would tell them I’m a poet and that I write poetry. I mean children’s books and nursery rhymes are filled with rhyme, meter, and image so I feel like children would understand poetry.

I know June’s over, but that doesn’t mean Pride is. What’s on your Pride playlist?

I mean there are the classics like “Finally” by CeCe Penniston, “100% Pure Love” by Crystal Waters, and “I Think We’re Alone Now” by Tiffany. Then, there are songs like “Scuse Me” by Lizzo, “Tempo” by Lizzo, “Cebuana” by Karencitta, and “Higher Love” by Kygo featuring Whitney Houston. It also includes the more emotional songs like “Slip Away” by Perfume Genius, “Shine” by Years and Years, “Holy Water” by Sakima, “Play by Play” by Autre Ne Veut, “Lay by Me” by Ruben, and “Warning Intruders” by Rostam. Of course, Britney Spears, Lady Gaga, and Beyonce are all mixed in there as well.

How about favorite Fab 5 member?

Jonathan is my favorite. We were given the famous quote “Can you believe?” in the very first episode. Jonathan is the type of energy I wish I had in me.

Congratulations on the book! I can’t wait to get my hands on a copy, and now that I think about it, I need to change the address on my pre-order. Aside from all of the craziness surrounding the release, do you have any personal goals (for self-care, growth, more houseplants, etc.) in the next year?

Thank you. Composing the book was a tremendous labor and I feel like the upcoming release and touring will be an even larger labor. I haven’t thought of any personal goals as I have been wrapped up with everything else but this is a good reminder, so thank you.

This is such a refreshing question. I definitely would like to devote more time to food. I feel like my relationship with food has been tremendously altered. In undergrad, it was extremely limited so I ate whatever I could find. Today, the stress of everything has me falling on comfort foods that are definitely not good for me. So I hope to relearn a healthier and more holistic relationship with food. Other things on the list: drink more water, get more tattoos, try to take more selfies.

Are you as obsessed with Megan Rapinoe as I am?

Such great hair and such great talent. You and my partner would get along just fine. He is obsessed with sports and I don’t mean just football or basketball. I am talking about soccer, lacrosse, gymnastics, professional bowling, college volleyball and so many other sports that only broadcast early in the morning. I am now semi-interested in college basketball but I fell in love with the WNBA. I feel like women’s sports are not given the light of day and that needs to change. We also need to pay them more.

Make It Feel Human

Mario Montoya, Fiction Editor

Storytelling is more than human tradition. It’s instinct. From oral creation stories of Native Americans, to cave-carvings of Egypt and Mesopotamia, to holy books and classic novels we’ve produced, even now with our digital media—laptops, phones, tablets—we can’t help but tell each other stories. It’s our nature. People tell stories while commuting on the train or bus. They get told daily in locker rooms. In line at Whole Foods, you’re bound to hear a juicy laugher. Gossipy teenagers devise compelling storylines, using common literary tricks, like character development and rising action. Want a riveting plot? Talk with a jailbird or ex-con. And it’s almost indisputable knowledge that homeless men and women have the best stories out there.

In New Mexico, storytelling is a way of life. It pulsates through our blood. The Puebloan, Apache, and Diné people here have carried on their histories and traditions orally for centuries, passing down memorized narratives to their children. Mejicano-americanos do this too, embedding memories, morals, and life lessons into our songs (our corridos) and our folktales. Not just as a source of entertainment, but as a way to exist. Our stories make claim to who we are, who we once were, and who we aspire to be. These claims are a part of the on-going plot that documents our experience and has since way before the written word or printing press.

Thus is the reason I am so proud, and honored, to be this year’s Fiction Editor for Blue Mesa Review: a publication created with a mission to amplify often marginalized voices. Founded in 1989 by New Mexico literary giant Rudolfo Anaya, Blue Mesa Review has regularly showcased what would be considered nontraditional talent, publishing work by many exceptional writers from the Southwest. In the Editor’s Note for Volume One, Anaya explains his intentions for BMR, writing that Blue Mesa Review is “a new literary magazine designed to serve the writers of our region.” Since then, BMR has featured many of the great Southwestern writers as editors and contributors. Ana Castillo, Joy Harjo, Leslie Marmon Silko, Rigoberto Gonzalez, Juan Morales, Denise Chavez, Jimmy Santiago Baca, Luis Urrea, the list goes on. Who’s next?

Yet, Blue Mesa Review is not a publication just for Southwestern readers and writers, as Anaya emphasized in the same volume. “Our focus is the Southwest,” he writes, “but we publish writers from any area.” And we’ve done just that. BMR reaches every corner of the continent and further, with an international readership. We’ve published the words of great writers like Robert Creeley, John Nichols, and Bobby Byrd. We prize that one thing that ties all storytellers together: a hunger to explore our humanity.

So, what makes us all human? That’s certainly one tough question with too many answers to list here. But, with that question in mind, no matter who you are or how you identify, if you’ve got a good story, please tell it to us. We want to give it an honest read. If you’re a woman, a member of the LBGTQ community, African American, Native, Asian, Caucasian, please, send them in. If you’re Latinx or Middle Eastern or use a medical device for transport, we want to hear what you got to say. If you’re tall, big, small, left-handed, own six cats, love Ellen and CBD products like we do, please send us your work. If you’re terminally-ill, have been enslaved, entrapped, manipulated, appropriated, accused, abused, we want to give you a voice. If you need a place to scream, to cry, to laugh, we’d love to provide you one. But, whatever you write, make it feel human. Whatever you do, make it you.