Bacopa Literary Review

Writers Alliance of Gainesville's international journal in 8th year : Contest Submissions Open April 1, 2017
This blog cited among Top Literary Blogs for Writers and Publishing Agents.

For examples of work we seek--follow, connect, read below, or click: flash story, poetry, fiction, nonfiction.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Flash is No Longer Fiction. . .

By Flash Story Editor Kaye Linden

Bacopa Literary Review 2017 submissions will open on April 1 and include "flash story," which can include creative nonfiction, memoir, fiction genres or a combination of these genres in 750 words or less, including micro-flash which might consist of 250 words or even fewer.

Here are a few of the criteria I look for in a flash story submission (see also 35 Tips for Writing a Brilliant Flash Story).
  1. Creative nonfiction, memoir, fiction, or a combination of these genres
  2. Tiny plot or character driven
  3. Compression: almost every word counts or carries meaning  
  4. A minimum of adverbs
  5. Focus on one scene or event
  6. A minimum of dialogue
  7. A great title
  8. Consistency of tense and point of view
  9. Fresh expressions without the use of cliches
  10. Riveting language or language that moves the reader
  11. Originality
  12. Story structure: a purpose, a beginning, middle and end with conflict, conflict, conflict and resolution.
Here's an example of my own 376-word flash story, written in response to the newspaper article cited below: 

The Future Legend of How Rising Seas Drowned Saint Augustine and its Famous Statue*
The first grain of sand to go slipped unnoticed into muddy seawater and high tide washed a small chunk from the base of Ponce de Leon's statue. Three teenage boys waded to the town plaza, climbed to the top of Ponce's helmeted head and practiced kissing his cold lips, slapping his face when Ponce didn't kiss back, and hanging upside down from the old head that bowed in shame at the youthful play. Perhaps Ponce felt jealous of young muscles and flexible limbs, or of the strength to climb statues and throw popcorn and peanuts from his slumped unyoung shoulders. He never did find the fountain, and with the Atlantic tide rising, rising, rising, his steel boots sucked down further, awash in brine. The boys knew, and Ponce knew, he was going under. Each evening the boys chopped off a finger, a thumb, a toe and the middle finger of the right hand became a tool to gouge out an eye, graffiti the shiny armor with she loves me, she loves me not, and scratch mud daubers and wasps from Ponce's ears. They removed one earlobe with the sawing up and down, down and up motion of a hacksaw, laughing at the crumbling little man as he lost one appendage at a time. The boys removed the mighty sword from the gallant gentleman and topped his head with the blade in a decapitation celebration, the step-by-step ritual of taking a great warrior down. Water washed over Ponce's knees while grains of stone fell away from the foundation in greater and greater chunks until Ponce leaned upside down, headless shoulders standing in water. One night, the boys stretched out drunk, across the rubble, across the broken fingers and toes, across the scraps of Ponce's heroic eyes, those eyes that once upon a time surveyed the fertile flowering of La Florida where surely his immortality lay.
        The water rose and rose and rose during the hurricane of 2019, a category six travesty, off the grid, never before witnessed, never before seen by the boys who drowned that night, never before seen by the city of Saint Augustine that drowned that night, never before seen by Ponce de Leon, whose hopes for a bright future drowned in rising seas.
*The Gainesville Sun, Florida, May 10, 2015: "Sea rise threatens Florida coast but no statewide plan"

See also: "How Can a Mother?"

Other Resources:
  1. Micro Fiction: An Anthology of Fifty Really Short Stories, edited by Jerome Stern. New York, N.Y.: W.W. Norton & Co., 1996. Print.
  2. The Rose Metal Press Field Guide to Writing Flash Fiction: Tips from Editors, Teachers, and Writers in the Field. Masih, Tara L. Brookline, MA: Rose Metal, 2009. Print.
  3. The Rose Metal Press Field Guide to Writing Flash Nonfiction: Advice and Essential Exercises from Respected Writers, Editors, and Teachers. Moore, Dinty W. Brookline, MA: Rose Metal, 2012. Print. 
  4. As this form can flash short and with impact, I refer readers to "Six One-Sentence Stories" by Bruce Holland Rogers. 

Friday, March 17, 2017

J.N. Fishhawk: Poet, Writer, Agitator

by Editor-in-Chief Mary Bast

We're thrilled to welcome our new Poetry Editor J.N. Fishhawk (AKA James Schmidt), who asks this year for submissions of "well-wrought poems in any form or genre, or none. Intrigue us, move us, surprise us with stunning imagery, lyricism, soundplay, structure. Disturb our well-trod patterns of thought."

Jimmy has been a friend of our journal since Bacopa Literary Review 2010, in which his prose poem a prayer helped inaugurate our first annual edition:
O bear, O rabbit, O moon, O woods with yr million million twiggy fingers clutching after disappearing fur, nestling features, lifting scales and claws and soft suction toes, scuttling buggy digits of horn and chitin, little dust-kissed hooks of moths, O things in thickets crawling, O clatter of lizards under leafmold, O slip of spider silk like cat's cradle played with death on the shivering green breeze-reaches, O underscrub where all breaths die, blaze of sun among dry wrecked shells in sand, you ancient snailshacks going slowly apart over centuries for lime, liner for the guts of the native earth, O hell all you racket of growth and vigorous destruction, come on, come on, burn and turn, let's all go down together and come up again some other time, who knows what beings we'll be? 
For longer than our seven-year acquaintance, our poetry editor has been a moving force of the Civic Media Center and Library (CMC) in Gainesville, Fl, a nonprofit, independent, grassroots, street-level alternative library and progressive community organizing space. He's often the MC for CMC's Thursday night open mic where many of our local poets and writers have given voice to their work. He's also a freelance writer and editor, with emphasis on education, outreach and promotions, academic, and artistic projects.

From one of his latest creative works: "The Darklands may be caught in infrared glimpses framed by ancient shade trees. They glimmer just below the surface of sunset rivers older than time..." So reads in part the back cover of Dancing Ghost's 2016 Production, Postcards from the Darklands, Photos by Jorge Ibáñez,* Poems by Jimmy Fishhawk.**

Jimmy's ekphrastic poems in Postcards from the Darklands are beautifully evocative of Jorge's photos, as evidenced in #20:
in wall so worn
by forgotten centuries' winds
that the puddled glass
between the windows' lead
is the ancestor of the ancestor
of the bubbled plate
that was the first pane
placed there,
where the shades still recall
the wartime blackout
even in the claybake
ovenheat of noon,
a ghost of her face
may be seen
to keep watch
on the darkest night
electric light fails
under the ice-weight
of winter
and even the stars howl
with grief
where the spines
of their own illumination
stab them
Postcards from the Darklands can be purchased from Wild Iris Books.

*Jorge Ibáñez, a graphic artist and web developer who's had numerous shows in Florida and Puerto Rico, is currently Director of the Santa Fe College Information Technology Education program.

**Jimmy Fishhawk, poet, writer, and agitator, has called the swamplands of Florida home for about twenty years. His work has appeared in a variety of print and online journals; he's also the author of two poetry chapbooks: Virus, Pt. 1:1 Infest Yer Consciousness (Dreaming God Productions) and Gone (Ghost Dog Press).

Fiction: A Compelling Narrative

by Editor-in-Chief Mary Bast

"Much in vogue in recent years," says Bacopa Fiction Editor U.R. Bowie, "is domestic literary fiction, "which tells true stories of middle-class people in realistic terms. We are only interested in such fiction if it's characterized by a highly unique and creative style. We want a passionate voice, we want your inventive mind to bring forth a compelling narrative with deeply drawn characters. (More of Bowie's take on good writing here.)

In this scene from To The Lighthouse, for example, Virginia Woolf artistically paints with words a "downpouring of immense darkness:"
Nothing, it seemed, could survive the flood, the profusion of darkness which, creeping in at keyholes and crevices, stole round window blinds, came into bedrooms, swallowed up here a jug and basin, there a bowl of red and yellow dahlias, there the sharp edges and firm bulk of a chest of drawers. Not only was furniture confounded; there was scarcely anything left of body or mind by which one could say "This is he" or "This is she."  
Notice how Nabokov, in his New Yorker story "Symbols and Signs" (his original title is "Signs and Symbols") alludes to a suicide attempt without once having to rely on the mundane:
The last time the boy had tried to do it, his method had been, in the doctor's words, a masterpiece of inventiveness; he would have succeeded had not an envious fellow-patient thought he was learning to fly and stopped him just in time. What he had really wanted to do was to tear a hole in his world and escape.
And U.R. Bowie's "Sonny and Jeanne," published in Bacopa before he became our Fiction Editor, shows how to uniquely spin an obituary:
So what's there to say about a man's life? "He was an avid bowler." That's the best they could do in the Greenville News, on the subject of Ivan C. ("Sonny") Gosnell, 57 years of age. Mike told me about the trophies. Said there was one with a bunch of scattered pins and just the ten pin left standing beside the number 299, that being Sonny's highest score and that ten pin being the only thing that kept him from a perfect game. Then imagine one final fling, an old black ball, paint chipped off, three forlorn finger holes never to be filled again, curving slowly down the lane, spinning in with a just-perceptible spin, rolling and rotating slowly on to the last loud crash: KA-WHOOM!
Can you write like this? Send it to us!

Leave a Trace of a Time and a Place

by Creative Nonfiction Editor Susie Baxter

Back in the 1990s when I was an acquisitions editor at Mosby, a health-science publishing house in St. Louis, a colleague gave me a tiny pillow on which she'd cross-stitched: "So many books . . . so little time." So true.

Frankly, I started out far behind most readers. As a youngster, 18 miles separated our home from the nearest library, and for several years our family owned no vehicle. Granted, we did have our own home library: Louisa May Alcott's Little Women, Dad's high school world history book, a storybook of tales like "The Three Little Pigs," the Sears and Roebuck catalog, and five copies of the Holy Bible . . . It wasn't until I read Daphne du Maurier's Rebecca in high school that I fell in love with reading. 

The thought of becoming a writer myself never occurred to me until I lost my beloved grandmother. I decided I had to write about her, which led to writing down more and more memories, and eventually offering workshops to help others record their stories.

I think of myself as a recorder of history, leaving a trace of a time and a place that is no more, such as the Suwannee River flood of 1948:
Water began seeping up through the ground in early '48, the year Granny died, just as the onion sets were sending up healthy-looking green spikes . . . Since we'd become accustomed to seeing the river rise and fall, a little bit of water around the onions didn't seem like a big deal. After all, Daddy had planted at the right time; he relied on the Farmers' Almanac, which told him when the moon and stars were in the right positions for planting.

The almanac didn't tell him where to plant, though, and that year he'd planted the onions--five acres of them--on the lowest spot of ground on our property, an area we called "the bottom" . . . dark, fertile soil, unlike the dirt elsewhere on the place, which was similar to the white sand along Florida's beaches . . . 

Daddy rotated the crops every year to prevent disease, and that year he decided to plant the tobacco next to the onions . . . Mama and Daddy led the way along each row. Mama walked backward, facing Daddy, and we girls followed. Mama carried the plants in a cloth bag slung over one shoulder. She dropped the plants, one at a time, into the metal "tobacco setter," the planter Daddy toted . . .
Some farmers in the area owned modern planters that were pulled by tractors. The planting process, for us, was entirely manual, but the five of us moved together like a machine: 
     Drop plant. Drop setter. Squeeze lever. Step forward. Pack dirt.
Though it took less than ten seconds to put each plant into the ground, planting two or three acres took days.
By the time we finished that year's tobacco planting, water covered most of the nearby onion crop. Daddy said the onions might not make it, but then joked that we now owned "lake front" property.
Mama didn't even smile . . . She had never told us that when she was seven years old, she'd seen the Suwannee River flood the crops. "I spotted the very first sign of the 1928 flood," she told us later. "I noticed water seeping up from insect and gopher holes in the railroad ditch where I played."

Susie's latest book is now available: Write Your Memoir: One Step at a Time.

She says "The creative nonfiction Bacopa Literary Review publishes has a moving inner voice. It holds to the same standards as other literary forms while remaining grounded in fact." Examples here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.  

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Audacious Ekphrasis

by Bacopa Editor in Chief Mary Bast

If you want to know more about me, Googling Mary Bast will first evoke echoes of my other life as an Enneagram coach and related books. But I've also written flash memoir and several forms of poetry including found poetry and ekphrasis, an audacious poetic form that's among many we're encouraging for Bacopa 2017.

You'll find a long history and many definitions of ekphrasis. I like the most open, contemporary version best:
Ekphrasis: the intersection of verbal and visual arts.
I first learned about ekphrastic poetry in a workshop with Melanie Almeder, who drew our attention to two famous poems written in response to Pieter Brueghel's painting, The Fall of Icarus: William Carlos Williams' "Landscape with the Fall of Icarus" and W.H. Auden's "Musee des Beaux Arts." 

Note that Williams' poem to some degree follows the tradition of describing the visual scene (a farmer was ploughing / his field / the whole pageantry / of the year was / awake tingling / with itself), while Auden's interpretation is a bit wider (About suffering they were never wrong, / the old Masters: how well they understood / Its human position: how it takes place / While someone else is eating or opening a window). 

Almeder invited workshop participants to write our own poems in response to the Brueghel painting, encouraging us to range as far as our muses would go. My poem "plummet" (published in Bacopa Literary Review 2012) imagined Icarus as a woman:
there is an Icarus
a woman who flies 

on intricate
feathered web
of covert


she breathes faster
learns to soar

the admonition
do not fly too high

her efforts full
of sky
of wind

her breasts
still flecked with honey
dripped from wings' wax

heavy with her father's
heavier than water

when she dives
no sun's light
scuffs the surface
As a visual artist I've explored other ways to interpret "the intersection of verbal and visual arts." For example, in response to Kim Addonizio's poem "Divine(Oh hell, here's that dark wood again. / You thought you'd gotten through it--), I created my acrylic painting, "Oh hell, here's that dark wood again." Then I reacted to my own painting with the poem "Backdraft" (again the dark wood. / Guardian of the Abyss hovering above / like a gold flame to incinerate what's left of my life).

Remember Bacopa's 2017 poetry statement: We're looking for well-wrought poems in any form or genre, or none. Intrigue us, move us, surprise us with stunning imagery, lyricism, soundplay, structure. Disturb our well-trod patterns of thought.      

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Good, Sometimes Great Writers

by Bacopa Literary Review Fiction Editor U.R. Bowie 

Passages from the Writings of Good, Sometimes Great Writers (continued)

"She felt a single drop of sweat slip from the small of her back, hang for an instant, and then slide into the mellow groove between the flexed jaws of her buttocks" (Harry Crews, A Feast of Snakes).

"A vast strand of white fleece, brutally bright, moved south to north in the eastern vault of the heavens, a rush of splendid wool to warm the day" (William Kennedy, Ironweed).

"joyfully gazing out from behind the cobblestone barrier are white crosses and monuments, which hide in the greenery of cherry trees and look from afar like white spots . . . . when the cherry trees bloom these white spots blend with the cherry blossoms to form a broad seascape of white; and when the fruit ripens the white monuments and crosses are bedizened with specks that are blood-scarlet in color" (Anton Chekhov, "The Steppe"). [Chekhov's tone-poem novella, "The Steppe," full of such brilliant nature descriptions, was much influenced by his friend, the wonderful landscape painter Levitan.]

"You know, I have an uncle who's a country priest, and the man is such a believer that when, in time of drought, he goes out into the field to pray for rain, he takes with him an umbrella and leather raincoat, so that on the way back home he won't get soaked" (Chekhov, "The Duel").
"there was something wooden about his walk, something like the walk of toy soldiers, the way he barely bent his knees and tried to make each stride as long as possible" (Chekhov, "The Steppe:). [Chekhov loved describing how people walk. Tolstoy, who loved Chekhov when he met him, marveled at the way Chekhov himself walked. "He has the walk of a little miss of the noble class," said Tolstoy with delight.] 

"in sadness there is some alloy of pleasure. There is some shadow of delicacy and quaintness which smileth and fawneth upon us, even in the lap of melancholy . . . . Painters are of the opinion that the motions and wrinkles in the face which serve to weep serve also to laugh" (Michel de Montaigne, "We Taste Nothing Purely").

[Desdemona, reveling in the stores Othello tells her about his adventurous life] "She swore in faith 'twas strange, 'twas passing strange; 'twas pitiful, 'twas wondrous pitiful. She wished she had not heard it; yet she wished that heaven had made her such a man" (Shakespeare, "Othello").

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Describing a Scene

by Bacopa Literary Review Fiction Editor U.R. Bowie 

Selected Passages from the Writings of Good, and Sometimes Great Writers

[description of a ritual butcher in a Ukrainian shtetl, inspecting the lungs of a cow or sheep he has butchered] "The glossy brownish organs . . . . the grotesque and otherworldly things that made life possible and which everyone -- from a mouse to a man -- had pumping and sloshing around in the dark hollows under his skin" (David Bezmozgis, The Free World).

"Her light-brown hair was drawn smoothly back and gathered in a knot low on her neck, but near the right temple a single lock fell loose and curling, not far from the place where an odd little vein branched across one well-marked eyebrow, pale blue and sickly amid all that pure, well-nigh transparent spotlessness. That little blue vein above the eye dominated quite painfully the whole fine oval of the face" (Thomas Mann, "Tristan"). [Mann is great at describing human faces, human bodies.]

[description of a delicatessen] "there were glass showcases where smoked mackerel, lampreys, flounders, and eels were displayed on platters to tempt the appetite. There were dishes of Italian salad, crayfish spreading their claws on blocks of ice, sprats pressed flat and gleaming goldenly from open boxes; choice fruits -- garden strawberries and grapes as beautiful as though they had come from the Promised Land; rows of sardine tins and those fascinating little white earthenware jars of caviar and foie gras . . . " (Thomas Mann, Felix Krull) [Mann is also great at describing a scene by accumulating masses of detail; in this he reminds me of Nikolai Gogol.]

"She'd never met a child with beady eyes. Beadiness arrives after long slow ekes of disappointment, usually in middle age" (Lauren Groff, "For the God of Love, for the Love of God").  


Friday, March 10, 2017

Everything is a Dream

by Bacopa Literary Review Fiction Editor U.R. Bowie 

Where And When You Write And Who Is Helping You Out 
"You don't do all the writing at your desk. You do it elsewhere, carrying the book with you. The book is your companion, you have it in your mind all the time, running through it, alert for links to it. It becomes your chief companion, in the real sense of the word, you can talk to it quietly. It becomes your sole companion" (James Salter, The Art of Fiction, p. 76).
Salter hints here that, unbenownst to you, the book is writing itself in your mind all the time. The deepest neurons of your brain work on the writing day and night. As recent studies in brain science have revealed, on a conscious level we have no idea about the decisions those independent neurons are making. 

Romantic writers used to think of themselves as the amanuenses of the gods, who guided their pens and sent down original ideas. But more likely writers are the amanuenses of their own creative neurons. When your favorite character suddenly does something totally unexpected on the page, it's not because God so decided. The neurons decided -- and they very well may have made that decision at three a.m., when you were fast asleep.
"There comes a time when you realize that everything is a dream, and only those things preserved in writing have any possibility of being real" (Salter, p. 77).

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Important and Unimportant

by Bacopa Literary Review Literary Fiction Editor U.R. Bowie

We Write Ourselves
"In a copy of a book that Colum McCann signed for an auction of first editions, beside the disclaimer that is always printed proclaiming that the book is a work of fiction, the names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the author's imagination, or are used fictitiously, and that any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental, beside this McCann wrote simply, 'Bullshit'" (James Salter, The Art of Fiction, p. 38).
Then again, you don't want to be sued, do you?

Important Books and Unimportant Books
"Books that are deemed important weren't written to be important, generally. They became such. I can't think that The Catcher in the Rye was written as an important, life-altering or significant book. I believe it was simply heartfelt. To Kill a Mockingbird doesn't bear marks of an intended importance although I don't know what Harper Lee actually felt. Fitzgerald thought all of his books were important. The Great Gatsby was a short book, only 214 pages, and he was insistent that the publisher sell it at the same price as his longer ones" (Salter, pp. 42-43).
Speaking of the so-deemed, the above paragraph demonstrates the sometimes dated opinions of James Salter. Read by everyone in the sixties, The Catcher in the Rye is read by practically no one these days. Not only not important, but already moribund, almost dead.  

To Kill a Mockingbird is still widely read, its so-deemed greatness still afloat, but it is "a book for children" (as Flannery O'Connor said).

As for The Great Gatsby, this book has claims to being the Great American Novel; it should be sold at twice the price of any other book.

Monday, March 6, 2017

The Contagion of Rhythm and Pacing

by Bacopa Literary Review Literary Fiction Editor U.R. Bowie

On Creative Writing and Creative Writers 
Writing shows its influences by the contagion of rhythm and pacing more often than by exact imitation of ideas. We know that Updike read Nabokov in the nineteen sixties by the sudden license Updike claims to unsubdue his prose, to make his sentences self-consciously exclamatory, rather than by an onset of chess playing or butterfly collecting." (Adam Gopnik, The New Yorker, Jan. 16, 2017, p. 84)
Writers imitate other writers: their themes, their literary form, their tone, everything. Much of what is published amounts to bad imitations of bad stories. How does a writer avoid such a misfortune? Read the greatest writers who have ever lived. Read Leo Tolstoy, Flannery O'Connor, Gustave Flaubert, Nikolai Gogol, Rebecca West, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Vladimir Nabokov, Thomas Mann, Virginia Woolf, many, many others in the grand pantheon of world literature.

About imitation. One thing that's ever so hard to be is original. Good writers present something novel in tone or style; a good writer has his/her own voice. When you find your voice you have begun.

Here's the layman's image of a writer who teaches creative writing in a university:
". . . a dramatic figure striking in appearance, wearing boots and jodhpurs, perhaps, with long white hair like a prophet and bearing a kind of literary ichor, the fluid in the veins of the gods" (James Salter, The Art of Fiction, p. 57).
Can that white-haired prophet teach you to write? No, you have to learn yourself, through years and years of intensive practice, while reading only the best creative writers and learning from them. 

On Envy of the Creative Writer
One day a writer of creative literary fiction sits down and writes a masterpiece. Other writers are plunged into sorrowful depression, thinking, "Dang, there are only a limited number of masterpieces to be written, and now this guy has filched another one and run off with it" (paraphrase of Salter, The Art of Fiction, p. 50).
I just read the brilliant novel by Viet Thanh Nguyen, The Sympathizer. Didn't feel envious of him, just thought, Wonderful, how great to have a young writer writing at that level of creativity.

What do good creative writers do? They "make the shape and rhythm of sentences intensely felt" (Salter, p. 56). Yes! 

Then there's the aspiring creative writer who proclaims, "I'm not interested in rhythms of sentences; I want to write about ideas." Urggh.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Reading Between the Lines

by Editor in Chief Mary Bast

For our 2016 Bacopa Literary Review poetry entries, Kaye Linden requested "an experimental poem, a different angle, a refreshing perspective that weaves poetic language and techniques into fixed or mixed forms."

In one of the most imaginative poetic formats we published, Bill Waters selected words from a page in the Charles Dickens novel A Tale of Two Cities, then superimposed the found poem over the original text (the literary equivalent of a collage, found poetry refashions and reorders existing texts).* 
         Reading Between the Lines
            of A Tale of Two Cities:
          Imperial Germany: 1918
More months had come and gone.
Young men cultivated a taste for English,
and ruined nobility soon became acquainted
with the circumstances of exalted expectation.
The visual quality of Bill's artistic design below doesn't come close to the printed page (go to our page and click on "Look Inside" to view the original), but I want you to see the inventiveness of this work:

Bill Waters is known mainly for his Japanese-style micropoetry (see Tiny Words for examples). In addition to found verse, he also writes ekphrastic poetry and very short prose. Among his many recent publications are "Rodney Dangerfield Meets Oscar Wilde: A Mashup in (Sort-Of) Triolet Form" (Poetry WTF), "Beam Walking" (Miriam's Well), "The Now and the Not Yet" (The Ekphrastic Review), and an art and poetry chapbook The Luzajic Variations,  Bill lives in Pennington, New Jersey, with his wife and three cats.

*The leading literary magazine for this form is The Found Poetry Review, where you'll find descriptions and examples of the many versions of found poetry. Each year they have a National Poetry Month initiative (here are examples from April 2015). Of their annual challenges, my favorite has been April 2013's "Pulitzer Remix," when I was one of 85 poets from seven countries posting a found poem a day based on one of 85 Pulitzer Prize-winning novels. My source, Michael Cunningham's The Hours, eventually became Toward the River.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Translating the Signs in Dragon Tongue

by Editor in Chief Mary Bast

In her acceptance letter to Bacopa Literary Review 2016 contributor Laura Madeline Wiseman for her prose poem, "Under the Frankincense Trees," Poetry Editor Kaye Linden wrote, "I congratulate you on this wonderful work. The profusion of imagery will offer a unique and unusual fantasy touch to Bacopa."

The genre of fantasy poetry is not yet fully delineated. Though you'll find references to the fantasy poetry of J.R.R. Tolkien and even W.B. Yeats, other terms for this genre are speculative poetry, science fiction poetry, and fantastic poetry.  

Fantastic poetry. The term is a perfect fit for Wiseman's tetralogy. Not only is this four-part prose poem fantastic, but it is in part responding to work by visual artists: ekphrastic. Section 1, for example (excerpts shown here) is in part a response to "Brer Rabbit's Hooch" by Jackson Zorn:
Brer Rabbit's Hooch, Jackson Zorn
There are trolls behind us. Don't, you say. I obey, refusing to turn around. I check my airflow, tap my chest computer, increase the volume on my headset. The only thing to hear is wind. There are trolls under Australian bridges, trolls on US highways, trolls in the tunnels of Russia . . . In Moscow they whispered something like Kozels, kozels, kozels . . . . I want to run. You want to stop this walking, your full-bearded face pinched. It's only wind, I say. You curse, call me rabbit, call me hooch, call me troll whore. I walk ahead, into the burn.

Sections II and III are in part responses to "Heart of the Dragon" and "Frankincense Tree" by Beth Moon.  Excerpts: 
After I married you, I put my troll dolls inside our holiday boxes, their plastic bodies among chipped bulbs, DIY ornaments, and mini-stockings for candy canes. Some of the trolls were scuffed. Some were gouged by teeth. Most had hair that teased into bright points . . . I search and search, but can't find the troll dolls. I put the mugs back, the tumblers, the dead fairy lights. I fold the Santa hats and stack the reindeer antlers. I listen for the skeet, unsure what you're hitting. Sometimes it sounds like screaming. I close the closet door.

Island of the Dragon's Blood, Beth Moon
When we arrive in this land of the Dragon, we don't know the trees, the burn of such heat, a place of no water. . . . Do not climb, you say, translating the signs in dragon tongue . . . . Trolls pace in circles, arms above their heads swaying. Some wear chains. Some groan . . . . I descend the trail, crouching in the shade. I remove the vials. I hammer in the spile to catch what will rise . . . . Raptors, you say and, We can't camp here. I watch the birds, their gripping dance . . . .
And from the final stanza:
To find trolls, strangers tell me of an island of myth, a place of cinnabar and incense burn . . . . They speak a twisting tongue, something gnarled, old. At the shoreline, small ships fight the winds that crash the docks. . . . Not here, they tell me. Soon, they say and build a fire at the base of a temple . . . . After a week of this circling, the meals of feta and fish, the strings of bartered dates, we arrive to the place of Frankincense trees. They give me the spile and I apply it to the trunk. Here? I ask. One sets up camp. The other holds the gun. When the stars come, the night thing begins again. I pray, just one repeating word inside the smoke.

Laura Madeline Wiseman teaches at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and is the author of more than twenty books and chapbooks. These include An Apparently Impossible Adventure (BlazeVOX, 2016), Leaves of Absence: An Illustrated Guide to Common Garden Affection (Red Dashboard, 2016), and Velocipede (Stephen F. Austin State University Press, 2017). Her collaborative book Intimates and Fools is an Honor Book for the 2015 Nebraska Book Award. Examples of her poems include Peacock Journal's "What They Do with our Nuts," "After They Cut Down Our Elder Willow," "The Terrific, Demon-Like Inhabitants of the Valley;" and Pithead Chapel's "Mad for a Century." Her collaborative poems with Andrea Blythe appear in Quail Bell Magazine: "Holding the Keys" and "The Hellos from the Corners of Quiet Rooms." 

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

In The Time It Takes To Snap A Photo

by Editor-in-Chief Mary Bast

What's the worst advice anyone ever gave you about writing? an interviewer for the NDR Blog asked Michael Farrell Smith (AKA Mike Smith of Albuquerque). "Kill your darlings," Mike said. "I hate it, I hate it . . . seriously, that's going to be your guiding creative metaphor, people? Baby murder? . . . what is artistic vision and creation but the process of giving life to a darling? To something only you can see and feel and understand, that you have to create in order for it to be real?"

Now you're beginning to get a feel for this one-of-a-kind writer who is both seriously trained (BS English, MFA Creative Writing) and an innovative rule-breaker whose life is devoted to "art and exploration." Mike describes his Bacopa 2016 piece, "--the Speed of Grass--the Speed of Us," as experimental nonfiction, a memoir of 1/60th of one second. A sentence fragment about a fragment of life. A memoir of the time it takes to snap a photo.

In his acceptance letter to Mike, Bacopa Literary Review 2016's Creative Nonfiction Editor Rick Sapp wrote: "Loved it, hated it, left me looking for a place to set it down, breathless and tired all at the same time. Joyce-ish in approach." Mike's memoir is indeed a lyrical, Joycean rush, well- deserving of comparison to the modernist, stream-of-consciousness genius, James Joyce, and that's why we've nominated it for a Pushcart Prize. Here's a sample; but you really want to read the original. It's quite literally breath-taking:
                                 --the Speed of Grass                                                                                                                                   --the Speed of Us
--a memoir--of a fraction of an instant--in a fraction of a place--an exploration--of something so fleeting--one sixtieth of one second--more momentary than a moment--a world of time in time--rushing--rushing--surging--flooding--from the sixtieth of a second that came before--toward--and into--the sixtieth of a second bound to follow--a progression--so inevitable--instantaneous--pure motion--whatever that is--the apparent motion of time--whatever that is--a moment--yes--a moment--make any choice within it--not consciously anyway--a moment like all moments--seemingly still--and yet made of movement--unstoppable--relentless--fast--something so small it is maybe only a description of something larger--one  sixtieth of one second--on maybe one quadrillionth of the surface of the Earth--an infinitesimal portion of all time and all space arbitrarily parceled away--held down--held close--by a piece of shining sidewalk--a trapezoid of growing lawn--a cracking concrete slab--and--along almost all that--by the front of a house--its eroding pin-orange bricks--its glistening white trim--its slumping screen door--the lawn settling up against it like a new broken wave--closing liquidly around a branching lavender bush--around greenery tangling beneath a faucet--around a snaking of garden hose--around two volcanic young elms rising uninvited from a grass-erupting flower box beside the slab--the slab a raft--and riding that raft--a family--a family of four--a woman--tall--my then-wife--then twenty-eight--legs crossed--crisscross applesauce--the kids would say--in green-strapped Teva sandals--bare legs--jean shorts--a green t-shirt--V-necked--green eyes--ponytail--hands on her legs--eyes and smile aiming up--and a man--me--taller--sitting slightly apart--my then-self--also twenty-eight--also cross-legged--also in Tevas--mine brown-strapped--in blue jeans with two fraying holes over one knee--in a soft blue shirt showing a screen-printed silhouette of power lines and two double-beamed utility poles--in rectangular wire eyeglasses--brown eyes--brown hair--sideburns--eyes and smile aiming up--and why were we smiling--did we feel anything--think anything--in that sixtieth of a second--that splinter of a splinter of the late-afternoon of August 18th--2008--and how could we have--in that emerging-evanescing--blooming--dyinginstant--thoughtless--emotionless--senseless--perspective-less--even with this persistent--unsettling--unverifiable sense that I did exist--was conscious--that everyone was--something sensed not in any sixtieth of a second but in bigger--baggier--more ill-fitting--times--in seconds--in minutes--this feeling that I was experiencing the world--that the woman--my wife--and our kids--and our cat--nearby--were experiencing the world--that all those plants were experiencing the world--shifting toward light--stretching toward water--displaying simple preferences and desires--but in this moment--only motion--hurtling--hurtling into something on our way toward . . . .

Michael Farrell Smith's work has been published in Tin House, New Delta Review ("101 Jokes for Epileptic Children"), Baltimore Review ("Notes from a Slowly Dying Suburbanite"), Booth ("Origins"), The 3288 Review ("The World Greening Wildly"), and elsewhere.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Cuffing Season

by Editor-in-Chief Mary Bast

Bacopa Literary Review 2016 is graced with diversity in many ways, including a wide range of age among our published authors. We've already toasted Pushcart Prize nominee Lynn Geri, who didn't begin writing until in her seventies. In this post we celebrate our youngest contributor, who was 15 years old when she submitted her talented and tormenting poem, "Cuffing Season."

Jenneh Montgomery, while a student at The Fine Arts Center in Greenville, South Carolina, won Honorable Mentions, Silver Keys, and one Gold Key for her poetry packet in the Scholastic Art and Writing Competion." The Gold Key piece, "Sestina an autobiography," went on to be judged nationally. She auditioned and was accepted to spend her junior and senior years of high school at the prestigious South Carolina Governor's School for the Arts and Humanities.

In most Editor's Blog posts celebrating Bacopa poets and writers, we show the author credits after the work. In this case, however, Jenneh's accomplishments have been listed first because you'll want to sit for a while and absorb the effects of this intelligent and gifted young poet's "Cuffing Season."
                Cuffing Season

My mother came with the dried leaves
and left in handcuffs. This was seasonal.
My brother's smile shifted into a thin line
when her knuckles pecked the door.
Winter was going to be harsh this year.
He could already see blizzards in her eyes.

My mother came with white ground
the year we were taken from her.
She buried our bodies under our bed.
We were found by men with badges.
My mother left in handcuffs again
and our bodies were given to our aunt.

My mother never came back one year.
My brother's smile stayed, but my gaze
stayed at the window hoping to see a blizzard.
The sky remained grey.

We once called her the black devil.
Then we were reminded by the devil himself
that she was our Mother.

Monday, February 6, 2017

Accepting the Color of Innards Inside the Slaughterhouse Bucket

by Bacopa Literary Review Editor in Chief Mary Bast

I'd like to introduce Shahé Mankerian's poem, "Fesenjān Fever," by giving readers insight into our editorial decision process. Here at Bacopa I trust the genre editors' experience and eye for good work and want them to have the last word about publication. If there's disagreement we have a discussion and try for consensus. We've also agreed that we don't want to risk losing good work to another journal by waiting until all submissions are in. So as the submission period goes on I keep an ongoing estimate of pages used by accepted pieces and pages still available. "Fesenjān Fever" was submitted a little more than six weeks before the submission period ended, and it took 2016 Poetry Editor Kaye Linden nine days to convince me we should accept it without waiting.

"Wow, this is pretty amazing," Kaye wrote on the day Mankerian's poem was submitted. "Repetition, visual imagery, concrete detail, concise and to the point, nice word choices, most lines ending on effective words. YES!"

On first reading I hesitated. "What happened to your distaste for 'you' and 'your,' Kaye? Yes it's concrete. Grotesquely so. I looked up Fesenjān -- it's a rich, tangy Iranian chicken stew flavored with pomegranate syrup. In Iran there are efforts to eliminate parasitic infection by 'condemning' animals and sending them to the slaughterhouse. I suspect the slaughterhouse in this poem is also a metaphor for Iranian slaughter. I need time to think about this one."

Kaye: "It's absolutely gross. That's the point. The second person point of view in this one does not bother me because it has attitude and it's a universal term, referring to the general culture. I love its raw edginess, the young voice, the imagery that disturbs. It's a courageous piece. People will hate it and love it." And she did accept Mankerian's poem, and I do love it:
                               Fesenjān Fever
When you're sick, mama's pomegranate syrup takes
the color of innards inside the slaughterhouse bucket.

The crushed walnuts snuggle between your teeth
and rub against the cavities. See the sautéed duck mimic

disfigured cardboards, replacements for window panes.
The caramelized onions float in the stew, then earthworms,

then onions, then earthworms. Mama drizzles pepper
like black rain. Nothing conceals the grotesque

when you're coughing bloody phlegm, not even
a teaspoon of sugar, not even a teaspoon of cinnamon.

The saffron threads dissolve like cigarette ash.
When you're sick, mama's pomegranate syrup takes

the color of innards inside the slaughterhouse bucket.

Shahé Mankerian's manuscript, History of Forgetfulness, has been a finalist at the 2013 Crab Orchard Series in Poetry Open Competition, the Patricia Bibby First Book Competition, the Quercus Review Press (Fall Poetry Book Award), and the 2014 White Pines Press Poetry Prize.

His collection "Children of Honey" is available here, and recent publications include "Reading the Residue" (Claudius Speaks), "Table Poems" (Proximity), "Mother Gives Dementia a New Name" (Armenian Poetry Project), four poems in Forage Poetry Journal ("50th," "Will," "Turkification in Istanbul," "Moses"), "Far From the Beanstalk: (Syntax), "Dear Mr. President" (Wordpeace), "Brioches in Beirut" (These Fragile Lilacs Poetry Journal), and many others. Mankerian is co-director of the Los Angeles Writing Project and an award-winning educator (Hovsepian School, Pasadena, California).

Friday, February 3, 2017

Dazzling, Pulse-Changing, Transformative

by Editor in Chief Mary Bast

Founded by Bill Henderson and published every year since 1976, the Pushcart Prize: Best of the Small presses series has become a highly honored literary project, an anthology of the best poetry, short fiction, and essays nominated by small press editors (up to six nominees) from work they've published over the previous year.

Poet and former Pushcart Prize poetry editor Jane Hirshfield describes the series as "a unique opportunity to try to bring a widened audience to a few poems I find dazzling, pulse-changing, transformative."

While "dazzling, pulse-changing, and transformative" weren't our exact words when first opening Lynn Geri's 2016 submission, 2016 Poetry Editor Kaye Linden and I came close, referring to "an incredible poetic voice, heartbreaking and powerful" and "definitely a WOW!" And we were in immediate agreement about including "Life of a Scion" among our Pushcart nominations. We don't know yet if Geri's dazzling poem will be selected for inclusion in the anthology, but we have no question that it's worthy of the wider audience served by the Pushcart Prize.

Life of a Scion watched too tightly
Against its Nature
by Lynn Geri

Strange face, smell, voice, touch, taste,
deranged wallpaper cats with big round eyes.
A new family. Smiles hold me too tight.
My second birth. They call me a scion.
I cry. Eyes watch. I disappear myself.
Mama, where are you mama?

                    A forsythia scion, cut last fall,
                    lies separate this spring,
                    unaware it is severed from its roots,
                    covers itself with yellow blossoms,
                    trying to grow.

Born bad, I eat too much, too little.
Yellow is wrong word, I can't have water.
I move. Straps hold me strong to the bed.
I try eyes open, closed. Don't boher.
"Bad seed." I speed. No need, I'm too slow.
Mommy, where are you? Mommy.

                    A cherry branch thought worthless,
                    pruned and discarded. By its nature
                    strives to grow, fails, tries again, again,
                    splurges on a mass of pink blossoms,
                    in one last struggle to bear fruit.

Terror of speaking, my eyes seek ground.
I climb trees, above their eyes. Years soar . . . 
I'm a cutting. My knife holds a woman,
behind a pink flowered bedroom door.
Bars slam shut. Prison guards watch.
Mom! Mom! Where are you? Mom?

                    A crab apple branch,
                    cut for forcing,
                    left too long without water,
                    buds dry, stem hardens,
                    unable to bloom.

You can't squeeze me. I seize time.
I point my watch's twig hands
toward my swinging feet. No one sees my
silent scream. As the twisted sheet bands,
eyelids close over me.
Mother,  do   you   see   me   now?   Mother.

Lynn Geri waited until she was into her seventh decade to take up the study of poetry. She has become deeply engaged with the beauty and romance of language. Lynn lives in a forest on Whidbey Island, in Washington State's Puget Sound. She is also to be published in Sonora Review.

More examples of poetry we've published: "Sestina: That mouth. . .," "Big Bang," "Under the Frankincense Tree," "cuffing season," "Fesenjān Fever," "Reading Between the Lines of A Tale of Two Cities: Imperial Germany 1918," "a prayer," "plummet," "What the Astronaut Said," "Wasp and Pear"