What I’m Looking For: Tall, Dark, and… Previously Unpublished (Up to 6,000 Words)

Look, let’s not waste each other’s time. We’re both here for the same reason: We love fiction. (Either that or you’ve cyberstalked me after watching the reality show I was on years ago, in which case I admire your dedication.) In the spirit of cutting the bullshit, let’s acknowledge right off the bat that each of us knows what good fiction is. I bet we both could wax poetic about the book that saved our lives, the single line in Slaughterhouse Five that knocked us out cold and gave us hope for humanity when we were beginning to despair,* the first time we picked up a pen or stared at a blank Word doc for half an hour or clacked a sentence out on an old-fashioned typewriter (we’ve all been through the Pretentious Writer phase). But I’m not going to do that because we’ve got fiction to write and submit.

Truth is, you and I are kindred spirits.

So, I’m going to tell you like it is. I mostly write about down-and-out women through the lens of magical realism. Does that mean you should only submit if you’re the next Karen Russell? Hell no. (Mostly because I’m trying to be the next Karen Russell.) You could write about a chair for all I care, as long as it absolutely eviscerates me, awakens my third eye chakra, and resurrects my childhood dog. Not such a tall order, right?

Real talk: What am I looking for in fiction submissions? Something that’ll knock me out cold and give me hope for humanity? If you can swing it, sure. But beyond that, I want to be broken and put back together again. Dorothy Allison once wrote, “When I sit down to make my stories I know very well that I want to take the reader by the throat, break her heart, and heal it again.” Here’s what I wrote in my journal when I read that: “I would need more than two hours of sleep to articulate why that resonates with me, [living that grad school life] but maybe sometime in the future I can reflect on it more. It has something to do with not shying away from the truth, something to do with breaking and then healing.”

I’ll give it to you straight – You and I both have gone through some shit. While I don’t believe writing is inherently about catharsis (we have therapy for that), I do think good literature breaks us open, guts us, and stitches us together again. I’m in this position as Fiction Editor because I admire the patchwork. At its core, writing is about just that, I think – weaving our individual perspectives into this one long, never-ending conversation. What you have to say is just as meaningful and important as what I have to say. Even if our subject matter differs, if our backgrounds are as distinct as my mismatched socks are right now, if our writing and our lives have absolutely nothing in common, I want to hear your story.

* “When food came in, the human beings were quiet and trusting and beautiful. They shared.” [Yes, I realize that’s technically two lines… I’m a writer, not a mathematician.]

All right. Try this then.

Often, when I tell people I write poetry, they tell me that they used to write poems a long time ago, when they were younger. I’ve always felt fond of this admission because it suggests that poetry may not be as mysterious and untenable as various literary circles have made it out to be. When I was in high school, I self-published my poems on Tumblr for an audience of about five enthusiastic readers. They were confessional ballads, odes to adolescence – I wrote about the field beside the pastor’s guest house where we had unsupervised parties after Homecoming and Prom, about feeling awkward and silly and inadequate, about driving beside the railroad tracks until we got to the abandoned paper mill and then sitting on its crumbling concrete steps. I never would have showed these poems to anyone I actually knew and I think that’s how some people consider poems their entire lives – as secret, embarrassing things.

In a sophomore year Creative Writing class, we were all asked to bring in a poem to read aloud. A classmate brought James Wright’s “Northern Pike.” The poem is stunning. In the first lines, Wright extends a hand “All right. Try this then,” just to pull it away when you’ve taken the bait, “Every body I know and care for and every body else, is going to die in a loneliness I can’t imagine and a pain I don’t know.” Whenever I am stuck on the opening lines of a poem, I still think to myself, “All right. Try this then.”

For a long time, I was embarrassed to tell people that James Wright was the poet that influenced me to begin writing poems myself. Wright and I are not alike. He was a white man from a white Midwestern town, an army vet who participated in the occupation of Japan, an alcoholic for most of his life. I felt worried that the scope of his poetry was limited to the self, that Wright lived the sordid and solitary life of many artists who are blinded into believing their art to be more precious, perhaps, than life itself. Such thinking has often led me down a rabbit hole of believing that perhaps poetry has no real role in the collective struggle I think is necessary globally today and in the months and years to come.

And yet I know this to be untrue. “Northern Pike,” after its introductory instruction and assertion goes through the physical motions of preparing and consuming a fish the speaker has caught on the river, illegally. After he and his companion eat the fish, Wright writes, “There must be something very beautiful in my body. I am so happy.” And yet, in the course of the poem, we are asked to reckon with both the fish’s mortality and our own and the strange and often slanted circumstances that determine them both. The language is sparse and basic, told as though to a friend, nothing too cerebral, and yet it’s stuck with me for almost a decade since I first read it. The poem is an unsettling analysis of justice that I think could only be offered the way Wright offers it: “Slit … open from the hinge of the tail to a place beneath the chin I wish I could sing of.”

We are all forced to live with a lot of uncertainty and, although that’s no different in our current moment than it ever has been, I think we’re having to come to terms with the fact that the structures we thought governed our lives are more idea than actuality. Perhaps this is why I gravitate toward poetry that examines power structures – because these structures are so abstract they appear invisible. Fanny Howe once wrote, “one definition of lyric might be that it is a method of searching for something that can’t be found.” All literature can and should seek to describe those invisible structures and can, perhaps, do so in a much more accessible and elegant way than other forms of rhetoric. The way a good poem accomplishes this task never ceases to surprise me.

I suppose I do have an idea of the kind of poems I’d like to publish in BMR’s next issue, but I would be disappointed if everything I read resembled those kind of poems to a T. Mostly, I am interested in those poems that pay attention – to language, to detail, to the world around them. I’m eager to read all of your poems, even the secret, embarrassing ones – perhaps especially those.

Editor in Chief Welcome


I’d like to start by expressing what a true honor it is to be Editor-in-Chief of Blue Mesa Review for this upcoming academic year. Likely, this year is bound to look very different, as the country reopens and readjusts to new norms. Social-distancing. Masks. Shorter work days? All we can predict is unpredictability. At BMR, we promise to keep a safe distance while still consistently reaching you on the deepest of levels with the creative works we publish biannually.

A little about me. I’m a University of New Mexico alum with lots of BMR experience. In my third semester as an undergrad, I was generously approached by my dear friend and mentor, Marisa Clark, about volunteering as a reader. This was Spring 2009, before our digital issues were produced, back when we received submissions through US mail, in large, tan envelopes. Once, maybe twice a week, we’d sit with our coffee, in front of an actual slush pile, ready to mark Y, N or Maybe on the printed manuscripts. (Thank God for Submittable!) I looked forward to those meetings. Discovering publishable work exhilarated me, like unearthing shiny gold from rock. I aspired to be on the BMR editorial board one day, should I get the chance.

In my first semester as an MFA, I signed up as a grad reader. The following year, I was elected Fiction Editor, a challenging role I learned plenty from. Now in my third year, I’m taking on EIC duties, which both excites me and terrifies me. And humbles me. Founded by local great Rudolfo Anaya, and featuring some of our most accomplished regional literary giants, BMR has an amplified voice, and a regional legacy to uphold. Not to mention our exceptional last two issues, which featured an interview with Mr. Anaya himself, and the work of US poet Laureate Joy Harjo, in back-to-back issues. No pressure, right?

Things are undeniably unstable, nationally and globally. Our world, as we knew it just months ago, is likely forever changed. And after the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police, people are angry, justifiably, ready to set the whole damn thing ablaze. I don’t blame them. I’m pissed too. As writers, it is our job to advocate for change with dangerous ideas. We ignite fires to pages using words to fuel the flames, applying breath and friction for the spark. Many words accurately describe the current state of things: fear, pandemic, lockdown, protest, inequality. The word quarantine is common household language now, understood by children, as typical as hello and goodbye. Another one: unprecedented. Everywhere, on social media, ad campaigns and news coverage, we hear about these unprecedented times. We encounter these phrases with such regularity, it seems reading and hearing them have a pointed, deliberate purpose.

The rapper Immortal Technique often reminds us that we tend to give-in to oppressors when we feel unsafe and afraid. With that in mind, it’s important, now more than ever, to move against the tide and dissent from rhetoric designed to incite paranoia. Fear is an enemy of the rational mind.

If you have flames to ignite and fires of your own to spark, and you need a safe space to do it, send in your work – that’s why we’re here. To provide you a venue where you can set fire to your frustrations, burning them down like a house of cards. We want truth, your truth, and we need to hear it. If you write poetry or prose that refers to the quarantine, or the recent police protests, we are interested in your perspective. But regardless of the nature of your work, we want your submissions. At BMR, powerful writing is what keeps our world turning.

I leave you with this from the great 19th century chemist, Marie Curie, a quote I’ve held close during these tumultuous times: “Now is the time to understand more, so that we may fear less.”

Write Bravely,

Mario Montoya
Blue Mesa Review, Editor-in-Chief


I’ve personally gone through a lot of transitions this year—moving to a new house and looking to move out of it again, starting testosterone, defensing a dissertation and graduating during a pandemic, on top of all the grading, lesson planning, and reading that normally accompanies graduate school. I know each of my colleagues has experienced similar strains and stressors. But change is a force we become familiar with as editors, and today, we’re excited to point that energy in a promising new direction.

Blue Mesa Review has elected a new editorial board for 2020-2021, and I am proud to present our new editors:

Mario Montoya—Editor in Chief
Mikaela Osler—Nonfiction Editor
Rhea Ramakrishnan—Poetry Editor
Jennifer Tubbs—Fiction Editor
Lisa D. Chavez—Faculty Advisor and Blue Mesa Review Reading Team Leader

During the next few months, you will see blogs from BMR’s new editorial staff detailing their interests, their passions, and their goals as editors and writers and humans. I am honored to pass the baton to our new board, who will continue our vision for community and creativity from this year into the next and beyond. Thanks to our present and past editors, our founder and our faculty advisors for making the 30th anniversary issues not only possible, but consistently breathtaking and inspirational.

And here’s to another thirty years of Blue Mesa Review.



BMR Goes AWP 2020 (Pt. 2)

Welcome back for part two of BMR Goes AWP 2020! Today, the Blue Mesa Review staff embarks on a roadtrip from Albuquerque to San Antonio for the Association of Writers & Writing Programs Conference that starts Thursday morning. Check out the list of panels below our incoming editors have scoped out, and make sure to visit us at our table (T1914) at the bookfair!

Mikaela Osler, Incoming Nonfiction Editor

R244: Women in Open Spaces: Life after the (Un)remarkable Journey

My memoir is mostly concerned with my experiences as a woman on a journey; I write about my thru-hikes on the Appalachian Trail, Continental Divide Trail, and Pacific Crest Trail. These hikes were certainly transformational, but I feel uncomfortable representing them as exclusively experiences of forward progress and redemption. I worry that I’m either trying to force my journey to follow the example set by male heroes like Jack Kerouac or Chris McCandless, or trying to turn my journey into a more acceptable, feminine narrative of personal growth a la Cheryl Strayed. How did having almost exclusively male archetypes through which to understand my own experience impact the way I understood my journeys as I was on them? How does this literary tradition impact the boundaries of my imagination as I try to capture my experiences in memoir? Are there ways of writing about journeys undertaken by people of all genders that subvert the expectations for journey narratives established through stories about men? I could not be more excited to hear a remarkable group of authors discuss these questions, and more.

Rhea Ramakrishnan, Incoming Poetry Editor

R195: The Dynamic Line: Poets on the Craft of Lineation

The only time I would describe myself as “detail-oriented” is when I’m writing a poem. I can tinker around with a single article in a poem for an hour and a line for a whole day. The manipulation of a single line in the poem can really make or break the experience I have reading that poem. Robert Lowell once wrote, “It’s much easier to write a good poem than a good line.” I’m excited to learn about how some really talented poets, including Jake Skeets and Kathy Fagan, craft lines in their poems. Hopefully I can transfer those skills toward revising a stack of poems I want to organize into my first collection!

Jennifer Tubbs, Incoming Fiction Editor

S175: Writing the Difficult with Fabulist Elements

As a writer of magical realism, I was thrilled to see a panel that explores the coexistence of “myth and magic with domestic concerns” in literature. Writing the Difficult with Fabulist Elements will bring authors and poets together to discuss fabulism in women’s writing, particularly as it relates to trauma. I’m especially excited to hear from panelist Paula Neves, whose work focuses on the Portuguese diaspora because one of my goals for this year is to learn Portuguese. Fingers crossed I can catch more than a few words in her poetry!

If you’ll be attending AWP 2020 this week, remember to stop by Table 1914 at the bookfair to meet the current and incoming BMR staff, see our latest issue, pick up some swag, and find out which phenomenal authors we have lined up for our summer contest judges. See you in San Antonio!

BMR Goes AWP 2020

Next week, Blue Mesa Review will be roadtripping the Southwest from Albuquerque to San Antonio for the Association of Writers & Writing Programs Conference. In anticipation of AWP, the BMR staff has been scoping out the panels we’re most looking forward to checking out when we’re not working our table (T1914) at the bookfair — check back next Tuesday for our incoming editors’ lists of panels!

Tori Cárdenas, Editor in Chief

F234:  Pushing Boundary: Trans and Genderqueer Poets Beyond the Page
F173:  New Poetry from Graywolf Press

As a newly out transmasculine poet who is about to graduate, I’m nervous. On the one hand, I feel more connected to poetry as a genre/channel for queerness and emotion and love than I ever have before. On the other, I’m unsure about work after my MFA (what else is new?). Except now, I also need work with health insurance (see previous parenthetical) that has trans benefits so I can stay on my HRT. So, nervous almost covers it.

However, I’m hella excited for Pushing Boundary: Trans and Genderqueer Poets Beyond the Page, a panel of trans/NB/genderqueer poets who are out there DOING THE DAMN THING: writing, working, and creating, in spite of all this daunting life stuff. I’ll also be reading with a whole squad of new queer friends that I can’t wait to meet! We’ll be at the Esperanza Peace and Justice Center (922 San Pedro Ave. San Antonio, TX 78212) from 7-10 pm on Friday March 6th, raising our #QueerVoices!

I’ll also be at F173: New Poetry from Graywolf Press, clutching copies of “Postcolonial Love Poem” and “Homie,” and crying queer tears.

Ari McGuirk, Managing Editor

R200: From Darkness to Light: Unearthing Family Secrets in Memoir

I’m fortunate to have a family that supports me writing about them. Since I started writing my memoir a little over a year ago, I’ve been something of an investigator digging up mysteries surrounding my parents and my adoption. Writing this book has been an exhumation—several of its key characters have been dead since I was a teenager. I’ve learned secrets that have been kept from me for decades, most of them unpleasant. Determining which are necessary to write and how to render them has been a difficult process, one I’m still working through. This panel sounds like an incredible resource for memoirists, like me, who are navigating the ethical and moral minefields that accompany this kind of writing and reflecting on the secrets we’ve unearthed with honesty and empathy.

Mitch Marty, Associate Editor

R242: Five Writers Walk into a Bar: Using Humor in Fiction
F140: Make Yourself at Home: Writing the Familiar from a Distance
S274: You’ve Got It Wrong: Writing against Misperceptions

This will be my third trek to AWP, and I’ve finally learned that there’s no way that I can attend all the events I’d like to, so this year I’ve narrowed it down to one panel each day that I’d like to hit when I’m not tabling for Blue Mesa Review, or wandering the Book Fair or San Antonio River Walk.

On Thursday, I’m looking forward to Five Writers Walk into a Bar: Using Humor in Fiction (Cara Blue Adams, Danielle Evans, Kristen Arnett, Jennine Capó Crucet, Courtney Maum). Of late, most of my nonfiction has been an act of juggling heavy personal history with a sense of levity and lightness, so this panel seems a perfect way to mesh pre-AWP therapy with post-AWP writing (and I’ll be honest, Mostly Dead Things was my favorite book in 2019, in part because of the way Kristen Arnett balances heaviness and humor). My writing is also largely centered in rural Southwestern Wisconsin, and I’ve given to a lot of thought about setting from my current perch in the middle of the desert. Friday I’ll be checking out Make Yourself at Home: Writing the Familiar from a Distance (Jennine Capó Crucet, Helena Maria Viramontes, Laura van den Berg, Tiphanie Yanique, and Manuel Muñoz). Last but not least, I’m excited to check out You’ve Got It Wrong: Writing against Misperceptions (Marie Mutsuki Mockett, Carmen Maria Machado, Ander Monson, Paul Lisicky, Fiona McCrae) on Saturday.

Mario Montoya, Fiction Editor

R157: AWP Program Directors’ Southwest Council
R285: Disabled and D/deaf Writers Caucus 

At AWP 2020, there’s a lot to engage. Every day is action-packed and eventful. So, with that in mind, I’ll limit my commentary to the first day. First, I plan on sitting in with the AWP Program Directors’ Southwest Council, a gathering of badass writers from the states of KS, MS, NV, NM, TX and UT. Since I’m a NMer, this might be a great place to make connections. Also, as a writer who uses a wheelchair, I’m looking forward to the Disabled and D/deaf Writers Caucus, which gives is a space for those who are disabled or living with chronic illness to network and discuss all things identity, writing, and teaching.

If you’ll be attending AWP 2020 next week, remember to stop by Table 1914 at the bookfair to meet the current and incoming BMR staff, see our latest issue, pick up some swag, and find out which phenomenal authors we have lined up for our summer contest judges. See you in San Antonio!

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.