Every time I finish a new poem, I first go through all the stages of grief (of course) and then, usually, arrive at a deep nostalgia for my native language. Out of all the writing I do, I don’t know why poetry always forces me to acknowledge that I am writing and molding this language that was once completely unknown to me.
I was ten years old when I arrived in the United States after having to flee my hometown, Ciudad Juárez, due to violence. At the time of arrival, I knew exactly two complete sentences in English, “My name is Evelyn” and “My mom made cake.” I don’t know why the latter stuck with me after six months of formally learning the language in my Mexican elementary school, but I think I just really 1. love my mom and 2. love cake, and that sentence combines them both. Anyway, I spent the first five years of my life in American classrooms completely unsure of what was being said around me, unless it involved cake. And so, I consistently felt stupid.
I don’t think I had a good grasp of the language or felt confidently fluent enough until high school. It was during this time that I began to write, using my limited vocabulary. I knew that in order to be a better writer, I had to read more and therefore familiarize myself with a more expanded vocabulary. This completely backfired on me, of course, because when I went out and tried to read what has been considered the best literature for ages, I could not understand a single word. It was written in a foreign language. The English that I knew and used was nowhere to be found within those pages, so, I gave up. I felt like people like me, people without an impressive English vocabulary, were not meant to be good writers. Obviously, I eventually unlearned this, or else I wouldn’t be here writing to you today, but it took a lot of convincing. It wasn’t until I allowed myself to exclusively read contemporary poets (some of my favorites include Ada Limón, Olivia Gatwood, and our 2021 Summer Contest judge, Natalie Scenters-Zapico) that I recognized that poetry didn’t have to be an overly complicated puzzle, that it could very well be understood.
As I gratefully take on the role of Poetry Editor for Blue Mesa Review this year, I want to advocate for accessible language. I want our readers to be able to dive fully into the world of the poems we publish, not sit outside wondering how to get in. I see now how long poetry has kept people out, has excluded and made readers feel unwelcomed, myself included. I want to believe that poetry is for everyone, every reader. Maybe this is an optimistic belief. Maybe poetry can change the world, but only if we welcome every reader, only if we make them understand.