Bacopa Literary Review

Writers Alliance of Gainesville's international journal in its 8th year
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For examples of work we seek--follow, connect, read below, or click: flash story, poetry, fiction, nonfiction

Monday, May 29, 2017

35 Tips for Writing Flash: Stimulus, Response, Chronological Order and Whose Story Is it?

In the current posts, Bacopa Literary Review Flash Story Editor Kaye Linden generously shares chapters from her book, 35 Tips for Writing a Brilliant Flash Story: a Manual of Flash Fiction and Nonfiction Writing.

Click these links for CHAPTER 1 ("Small Frame"),  
CHAPTERS 2 & 3 ("The House Theory" & "Slice-of-Life Stories"),
CHAPTERS 4 & 5 ("Compression, Minimalism" & "A Striking Title")
CHAPTERS 6 & 7 ("The First Few Lines" & "I Want It But I Can't Have It, So I'll...")
CHAPTERS 8 & 9 ("Kaye's Rule of Six C's" & "Compressed Scene & Story Line")

 Stimulus, Response, and Chronological Order

No matter how insignificant the action, maintain chronological order. If chronological order is skewed or out of sequence, the reader will become disoriented to the story, time and place.

Stimulus results in a response. Remember Pavlov's dog? Whenever the bell rings, the dog salivates because it is in the habit of receiving treats at the ringing of a bell.

Stimulus and Response

Pay attention to the sequence of one sentence after another and how one action or event triggers the next, and the same for paragraph sequencing.

Examine the following example from "Agoraclaustrophobia" to see how each sentence leads into the next:
"Some people get claustrophobic out here," my father said.

I laughed. "In millions of acres of open land?"

"Yes. It's the lack of familiar things," he said. "There are no cafes or buildings to hold you up in The Great Empty."

"You mean people get agoraphobic," I said.

"Both. Think about it. Anything could happen. . ."
Here are some of the "beats" or triggers and responses in the story:
Stimulus: Car breaks down in the desert.
Response: Father must search for natural adhesive to repair the radiator hose.

Stimulus: He leaves the daughter alone in the car.
Response: She develops the anxiety of abandonment in the desert at night, feeling closed in by the openness of the desert, imagining terrible scenarios.

Stimulus: The father returns and repairs the hose. The mechanical problem resolves and the father returns in good health.
Response: The daughter feels better and they continue on their way.
I devised this rule: "For a story to succeed it must follow karmic law. Every action triggers a reaction."

Prompt: You have won $5000 at the local Walmart store but have only 20 minutes to shop. Using stimulus and response, write the scene.

Whose Story Is it?

The relationship of the father and daughter serves as a character in this story. There is the question of whether or not the father will return.

This is the daughter's story, but at the same time it speaks volumes about their relationship. The focus is on the daughter and her reaction to the problem. The father's conflict might be whether to leave the girl or take her with him. He leaves her alone, which precipitates anxiety. She lacks the trust that he will return. What are the implications of this? For interest, consider the possible backstory of this lack of trust.

Prompt: Ask "what if?" What if you were left alone at night in the desert? Left in the streets of a big city? Left with no money? No food? No water? If the story were a long short story, we could introduce other plot events like these, but it is a flash, and we keep its story line simple.

To stimulate a story ask "what if?" What if the father and daughter were caught in a flash flood? What if . . . ? What other examples of agoraclaustrophobia could you write about?

Stay tuned for CHAPTER 12 ("Moving the Story Forward") 
and CHAPTER 13 ("The Shape of Flash")

You still have until May 31 to submit to Bacopa Literary Review.

Friday, May 26, 2017

35 Tips for Writing Flash: The Six C's and Compressed Scene/Story Line

In the current posts, Bacopa Literary Review Flash Story Editor Kaye Linden generously shares chapters from her book, 35 Tips for Writing a Brilliant Flash Story: a Manual of Flash Fiction and Nonfiction Writing.

Click these links for CHAPTER 1 ("Small Frame"),  
CHAPTERS 2 & 3 ("The House Theory" & "Slice-of-Life Stories"),
CHAPTERS 4 & 5 ("Compression, Minimalism" & "A Striking Title")
CHAPTERS 6 & 7 ("The First Few Lines" & "I Want It But I Can't Have It, So I'll...")

 Kaye's Rule of Six C's

Character Craves, Cannot have it, Conflict, Consequences, Change.

The Six C's can occur in another order. The three main aspects of a flash are conflict, consequences (what happened to the main character as a result of the problem?) and change. Change must occur in a story. The character might not crave something but have a problem that triggers conflict, consequences and change in that character or the situation.

The father in "Agoraclaustrophobia" has a problem and must leave his daughter alone in the vast desert. As a result, she experiences fear and anxiety. The conflict lies in the life-threatening situation of a breakdown in the desert, but also exists within the daughter who develops anxiety. The father's safe return is the positive outcome, resulting in a change in her anxiety levels and perhaps a return to trust that the father has not abandoned her. In addition, the father's success allows for a positive change in their predicament.

Prompt: Take a story you have been working on and mark the Six C's in red. If the C's are difficult to find, the story structure needs reworking.

Compressed Scene and Story Line

The most difficult concept for writers to understand is the use of one story line in flash. In this genre, the story line may be likened to a compressed plot or series of events. I have read and reviewed thousands of very short stories by excellent writers who have difficulty maintaining a story's track and introduced other story lines without realizing it. This gives the read an awkward "all over the place" feel. Consider this fact when analyzing a flash.

A writer should be able to recite the story line in one brief sentence which will serve as the skeleton on which to hang the flesh of the story. If it cannot be summed up in a short sentence, "the flash" will morph into "the rambling." Often, writers who do this switch points of view or tenses during the narrative. This creates a tangled mess.

Here is the story line of "Agoraclaustrophobia" in one sentence:
A car breaks down in the desert and the father must leave his daughter alone while she suffers an attack of agoraclaustrophobia, which resolves when her father returns with a solution to their predicament.
If we peer through the "keyhole" of the door, we can witness this slice-of-life event within one frame.

Prompt: You are at an amusement park with friends. While riding on a Ferris wheel, the machine stops and you are hanging in mid-air. Write a sentence about what happens next and another sentence about what changes.

Click here for CHAPTER 10 ("Stimulus, Response, and Chronological Order") 
and CHAPTER 11 ("Whose Story Is It?")

You still have until May 31 to submit to Bacopa Literary Review.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

35 Tips for Writing Flash: The First Few Lines and I Want it But I Can't Have It, So I'll...

In the current posts, Bacopa Literary Review Flash Story Editor Kaye Linden generously shares chapters from her book, 35 Tips for Writing a Brilliant Flash Story: a Manual of Flash Fiction and Nonfiction Writing.

Click these links for CHAPTER ONE ("Small Frame"),  
CHAPTERS 2 and 3 ("The House Theory" & "Slice-of-Life Stories"),
CHAPTERS 4 AND 5 ("Compression, Minimalism" and "A Striking Title")

The First Few Lines

The first few lines orient the reader to the flash. They present the foundation of the house and give the story line its cornerstone.

In a very short story, begin the action or the first few lines in media res, in the middle of things. In "Agoraclaustrophobia," the first two lines set up the story: the where (Australian desert, the last time she visited, driving to his childhood home), when, how, why:
"The last time I visited my father, we drove to his childhood home--Thousand Acre Sheep Station, dead center Northern Territory, an endless expanse of red soil and gum trees, fenceless and defenseless from hungry dingoes and buzzards."
The desolate setting is detailed and the background implied (the daughter is visiting). This one introductory sentence offers important information to orient the reader.

Prompt: Write 3 lines to introduce the reader to the middle of an action scene. Who is in the scene, where does it take place, what happens? Get right into the middle of the action, orient and hook the reader.

I Want It, But I Can't Have It, So I'll . . .

The very definition of story is "human desire thwarted."

For a story to offer interest to the reader, conflict must exist. When the main character does not get what s/he wants or needs, conflict arises and launches the story line.

Prevent a character from getting what s/he wants and you have a story.

The father in "Agoraclaustrophobia" wants to get to his childhood home but is prevented from doing so when his car breaks down in the middle of the desert and he must search for material to repair the radiator hose. What happens as a result of the breakdown in the desert? The impact of the situation affects not only the father but the daughter. He must search for a solution to a potentially life-threatening breakdown in a desert and the daughter must cope with fears of abandonment.

Prompt: Recall something you have wanted. What prevented you from getting it? List the consequences of not getting what you want.

Stay tuned for CHAPTER 8 ("Kaye's Rule of Six C's") 
and CHAPTER 9 ("Compressed Scene and Story Line")

You still have until May 31 to submit to Bacopa Literary Review.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

35 Tips for Writing Flash: Compression, Minimalism, a Striking Title

In the current posts, Bacopa Literary Review Flash Story Editor Kaye Linden generously shares chapters from her book, 35 Tips for Writing a Brilliant Flash Story: a Manual of Flash Fiction and Nonfiction Writing.

Click these links for CHAPTER ONE ("Small Frame") and 
CHAPTERS 2 and 3 ("The House Theory" & "Slice-of-Life Stories")


Flash mandates the skill of compression. That includes writing with compression for the following story elements:
  • plot line of story events or no plot line at all (crosses into prose poetry)
  • linked scenes
  • story line
  • beginning, middle and end
  • story arc--a change or epiphany, documented in a small space
  • frame
  • time and space
  • word choice
  • word number
  • dialogue
  • number of characters
What does compression mean? It means constriction or minimalism. For example:
  • the use of a limited number of adjectives and adverbs, or none at all
  • a tiny amount of dialogue used only to make a point or move the story forward
  • eliminating "the" and "a" when possible
  • use of words that carry meaning (word weight)


A cousin to compression, minimalism means tight, sparse writing. It implies the use of only the essential. The essential in flash means using only those elements needed to demonstrate the story. Again, minimalism holds the place of a close cousin to compression. I refer you to the minimalistic writing of Ernest Hemingway in his short story, "Hills Like White Elephants."

Prompt: Write a story in 25 words or fewer. Cut unnecessary words. Write the story's essence. Now distill it down to 15 words, then 10 words, then 6 words.

A Striking Title 

The first hook to a story or novel lies in its title. Consider the following titles:
"Jabberwocky" by Lewis Carroll
"An American Blue Comrade's Didactic Evisceration Flaming George's Geopolitical Havens, Hopefully Igniting Jabberwocky Jihad" (from Sentence: A Journal of Prose Poetics)
"The Fish" by Elizabeth Bishop
"Agoraclaustrophobia" by Kaye Linden
Which title would you pick up and read?

Because the title hooks a reader, it must work hard. Follow up with the promise of a tasty treat. If you want a reader to remember your story, offer a compelling title. "Agoraclaustrophobia" suggests multiple emotional layers. The word hints at abandonment, fear of small and open spaces, imagined terror, and other emotional implications.

Take these steps to choose a title:
  • Choose a temporary title (a working title)
  • Once your writing is complete, browse through the piece and choose a few words or a phrase for a permanent title
  • Take the main word from your title and search for its synonym in the thesaurus. Can you find a better choice for your title?
  • Use a catchy phrase in the story
  • Refine the story into its six-word essence and use that as a title
Prompt: Open the thesaurus or dictionary. Close your eyes. Open at another page or section and circle your finger to a random place on a page and point to a word. Write down the word. Repeat this process 3 times. Mix up the words, use one for a title or to trigger a poem or narrative.

Click here for CHAPTERS SIX ("The First Few Lines") 
and SEVEN ("I Want It, But I Can't Have It, So I'll . . .")

You still have until May 31 to submit to Bacopa Literary Review

Saturday, May 20, 2017

35 Tips for Writing Flash: The House Theory and Slice-of-Life Stories

In the current posts, Bacopa Literary Review Flash Story Editor Kaye Linden generously shares chapters from her book, 35 Tips for Writing a Brilliant Flash Story: a Manual of Flash Fiction and Nonfiction Writing.

CHAPTER TWO: The House Theory (continued from CHAPTER ONE)

In Bruce Holland Rogers' Flaming Arrows, Kate Wilhelm compares the writing of a very short story to a visit to a house. This theory appears in expanded form in this manual. What follows clarifies the differences between a novel, a short story, and a flash.

Any fiction, no matter what its length, builds on a foundation like a house, and the frame holds up the story. Each detail must offer relevance in the weave of the story. Otherwise you will produce a "Frankenstory." Each piece, each event, each character and action, must fit into the puzzle to produce a whole and perfect building.

The Novel Analogy
You approach a house in the neighborhood.
     The family invites you for dinner. The evening offers stories, entertaining characters, conflicts, discussions, and new people. After going upstairs to the bathroom, you sneak a look in the closets and find out how these people live. Are the clothes organized and meticulously hung or are they crammed together in disarray, piles of dirty laundry on the floor?
Short Story Analogy
One evening, you notice the house living-room windows are open and the lights are on. You peer in, able to view only one room, let's say the living room. You heaer the conversations and arguments, and witness the character interactions and current events as the characters sit around a coffee table. You recognize a few of the people from dinner the other night and remember one or two of their stories. Your view is limited to the living room.
The Flash Analogy
Tonight, like a voyeur, you peer into the keyhole. The lights are on. Observe the living room happenings through the narrow keyhole frame that limits your view to one tiny fraction of the room.
Now let's apply this third theory and add flesh to its bones, or boards to its frame:
Prompt: Curl your hand and peer through it as if you are looking through a keyhole. Describe in 15 words or fewer what you see.

CHAPTER THREE: Slice-of-Life Stories

The slice-of-life story encompasses a small piece of a life: a day, hour, or minute. The writer begins the story in Medias Res, in the middle of things. The writer takes the big picture (the house), stares through the keyhole and focuses on "the middle of things."

In "Agoraclaustrophobia," the scene captures a father and daughter whose car breaks down in the Australian desert. The story represents a slice of life as framed by an imaginary keyhole or a pair of binoculars. I often wish I could be "a fly on the wall." Well, it's the same principle. In a slice-of-life story, you are the fly on the wall, with a narrow view of the events.
Prompt: Write a flash from the perspective of a fly on the wall in someone's living room. Limit the event to 1 hour in time.

Click here
for CHAPTER ONE: Small Frame; Click here for CHAPTERS FOUR (Compression, Minimalism) and FIVE (A Striking Title)

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

35 Tips for Writing a Brilliant Flash Story

From 35 Tips for Writing a Brilliant Flash Story: a Manual of Flash Fiction and Nonfiction Writing, by Bacopa Literary Review Flash Story Editor Kaye Linden

Flash Story is one of Bacopa's contest genres this year, with a $400 prize awaiting the best story sent by May 31. We'd like to encourage more flash story submissions and provide a closer look at the criteria we'll use to select our flash prize winner. Tell all your writer friends, because this is also your chance to read my book on the subject for free: Thirty-Five Tips for Writing a Brilliant Flash Story.

These posts will offer you a skeletal frame on which to hang a story. Successful flash stories demand knowledge of structure and craft. The information here can apply to creative flash nonfiction or flash fiction or flash memoir stories but for brevity, I'll refer to "flash." Enjoy the art of brevity!

CHAPTER ONE: Small Frame

Flash has a small framework, with no more than 1500 words. Commonly used terms and word counts for the most familiar flash forms include:
  1. Drabble: 100 words
  2. Dribble: 50 words
  3. Flash: 750 to 1500 words
  4. Hint: 25 words or fewer
  5. Microfiction: 250 words
  6. Nanofiction: 55 words
  7. Napkin, postcard, six-word, furious, minute fiction: fits on a napkin
  8. Prose poetry: variable word counts
  9. Sudden fiction: also known as flash fiction and variable up to 1500 words
My flash story below, "Agoraclaustrophobia," published in The Feathered Flounder (Spring 2012) will demonstrate chapter points as we move along.

     The last time I visited my father, we drove to his childhood home--Thousand Acre Sheep Station, dead center Northern Territory, an endless expanse of red soil and gum trees, fenceless and defenseless from hungry dingoes and buzzards. The open jeep bumped and shook its way through scrubby mulgas, around sinkholes, and over the occasional dead wallaby. I leaned back and studied the blue sky with its wispy white clouds.
     "Some people get claustrophobic out here," my father said.
     I laughed. "In millions of acres of open land?"
     "Yes. It's the lack of familiar things," he said. "There are no cafes or buildings to hold you up in The Great Empty."
     You mean people get agoraphobic," I said.
     "Both. Think about it. Anything could happen. The mind expands because there's so much room, so much to fear--caves with ghosts, rock spirits, quicksand. Look how many places there are out there to bury a body. Who would know if you went missing? Who would ever find you?"
     I wiped damp palms across my shorts, put on sunglasses, and took a swig from a bottle of beer. Some years ago my cousin had disappeared out here when her tour bus stopped for a water break.
     "A sunny day," they'd said. "Just like any other day." She wandered off and never came back from "out there" where it's easy to melt into a chimera, to get lost, lose the trail, meander along the western track instead of the eastern track, sink into the never-never land with its ancient secrets, its unanswered cries from lost children, its whitewashed human bones, its half-decayed cattle with jaws wide open in a scream.
     Sun seared into my temples and burned my arms and thighs. Sweat fell in drip, drip, drips, down the front of my T-shirt, like tears for a life cut short. The sun drifted down the horizon. "Put up the windows, Dad."
     He laughed. "Hearing voices?"
     The engine putt-putt-putted and stalled out.
     My father slammed his fist on the dashboard. "I'll be damned. Better brace yourself, Girlie. We have bigger problems than voices." He jumped out of the jeep and opened the hood over the steaming, hissing engine, climbed under the car and around the car, flitting like the shadow of a poltergeist. "The stupid idiot in Alice Springs didn't see a leak," he said. "There's a bloody hole in the radiator hose." My father searched under the seats. "Damn it. No tape. You got any chewing gum?"
     I shook my head. "Sorry."
     My father pointed to the sky. "Get into the jeep. It's getting dark. I need to find gum tree sap and plug up the hole." He grabbed a flashlight and handed me one. "Back in a jiffy. Sit tight."
     Then he was gone. Night bore down like a gigantic stone hand. Hours passed and the flashlight faded. The great emptiness shrouded my body like dirt around a tomb.
     "Dad? Where are you?"
     Whispers whispered down the hot wind. My fingers grabbed the warm metal of the door handle and I inched out of the car. Bile rose up my throat, sand shifted beneath my feet and images of my father flashed across my vision--my father lost inside a cave with a broken leg, drowned in a sinkhole, kidnapped, shredded by dingoes while searching for his way back to the jeep. Had we missed the signs of sacred land never-never to be crossed at night? Had the spirits cursed us?
     When streaks of pink stained the dawn sky, I pulled a heavy blanket around my shoulders, curled into a ball and shivered on the front seat. I imagined my father's jaws wide open in a dying scream.
     A shadow fell across the windshield of the jeep, and I sat up, eyes wide open. My father's drawn, white face appeared at my window and I sucked in a gasp of surprise.
     "Bloody long night," he said. "It took hours to find a gum tree with sap, and when I did, I was so tired, I fell asleep on the ground. Hope you didn't worry too much," he said.
     "No," I said. "Not at all. I fell asleep too." I bit my lip. "Just hungry, that's all."
     My father plugged the hole in the radiator hose and we bumped and rocked our way once more towards his childhood home, Thousand Acre Sheep Station, dead center Northern Territory.

Click here for CHAPTER TWO: The House Theory 
and CHAPTER THREE: Slice-of-Life Stories

Click here for CHAPTER FOUR: Compression, Minimalism 
and CHAPTER FIVE: A Striking Title

You still have until May 31 to submit to Bacopa Literary Review.

Sunday, April 30, 2017

A Voice That Sirens Our Souls

By Bacopa Literary Review Editor in Chief Mary Bast

We've raved before about Stephanie Emily Dickinson's work, with a sample story from her lyrically charged chapbook, Heat: An Interview with Jean Seberg. In response to Dickinson's latest work, Bacopa Flash Story Editor Kaye Linden says "The amazing skill in Stephanie's use of language is that we don't even realize her voice has sirened our souls."

Below are comments from the back cover of Dickinson's The Emily Fables:
Stephanie Dickinson's homage to her grandmother and the lost world she inhabited . . . These beautiful, strange "fables" can read at times almost like scenes from Grimms' fairy tales yet are very American and barely a century gone. Catherine Sasanov.  

Her works are all about the lucid, arresting turns of phrase that make language as surprising and re-readable as it should be. Chila Woychik, essayist and editor of Eastern Iowa Review

Sometimes we feel it is a spirit that lives within the narrator, a dybuk, that shares her mind, strums her emotions with its willful dissonances. Rosemary De Angelis, Director, New York Drama Desk, Award Winning Actress
With permission, here is "Emily and the Ewes" from The Emily Fables:
1887. Someone left me in the orchard, my father said, and since it was January when they waded through the new snow beneath the apple tree, the one that had always favored us with red fruit, their boot prints iced solid. My father was carrying water to the old ewes, whose tarpaper shed leaned against the gnarled tree. Its branches that in spring would blossom blush-pink, with each petal seeping a filthy sweetness, had stiffened, bare-knuckled. It was below zero when my father spied a black-haired baby--such a full head of hair, coiled as if the fleece of a dark sheep. I would have frozen, had not the old ewes crouched next to me, one on either side, their names Libbie and Esther, their pink eyes dimming as if cherries slowly sinking in cream. "Ladies, what have you there?" he'd asked. The old ewes could not answer in his tongue for they lived in time that had already passed. They'd gotten on their knees, their blackened legs under them, one on either side, like a hot tickling breeze. I clung to the long straggling fleece. The ewes' wool was scented with bark, fierce wind, and damp earth soaked in the cider of a thousand apples dying. I shivered when my father plucked me up for I wore not even a rag. The snow had begun again, thick drops that felt like edges of burlap. A snow that pricked. When he carried me into the kitchen, my mother mistook me for an animal he'd skinned and brought home for dinner. "Shall we keep her? Or let Libbie and Esther bring her up?" And then my father would throw back his head and laugh for I was his favorite, it was only a story to tease me with. I had been born from my mother's body like my brothers. I would always love the ewes, as if they alone knew the truth of me. My mother once asked what side of the family had given me my terrible hair. Like an Ethiopian's or a sheep's. No relative had such kinkiness. In Sunday school, the girls poked fun. I thought of the ewes sharing with me visions of the apple tree, the slow seep of minutes, the strange roots hauling up water. Worm rot drawing the wasps. My husband-to-be said that God had given me the most beautiful hair and he would die if I cut it, then closed the window shade like flypaper the first time I let it down. After my third child I began to dream of that place between two sheep. And I hugged the ewes' bedraggled heads. Their offspring had been taken and meals made of them. Still the ancient mothers did not call down a pox upon our house or plagues of locust and toads. In my sleep the frozen sky's no color at all. The trees clatter. We eat the snow apples. The ewes' broken teeth hold the fruit. They bah. I am their January lamb.

Stephanie Dickinson was raised on an Iowa farm and now lives in New York City. She graduated with an MFA from the University of Oregon. Her work appears in Hotel Amerika, Mudfish, Weber Studies, Fjords, Water-Stone Review, Gargoyle, and Rhino, among others. Heat: An interview with Jean Seberg is available from New Michigan Press. Her novel Half Girl and novella Lust Series are published by Spuyten Duyvil, as is Love Highway, based on the 2006 Jennifer Moore murder. Her work has received multiple distinguished story citations in the Pushcart Anthology, Best American Short Stories, and Best American Mysteries.

Other links to Dickinson's work: Eastern Iowa Review:"Emily Overhears a Mourner," "Emily and the Spring Cleaning," Emily and the Mother-in-Law." Kestrel: "Emily and the Whooping Cough," "Emily and the Norsemen," "Emily and the Missionary," Emily and the Blizzard." Verse Daily: "Emily and the Bobcat." Penduline Press Interview with Stephanie Dickinson; Gravel: "Chicago Insomnia."

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Cleave Poetry

By Editor in Chief Mary Bast

Typically for these blog posts, I search the web for lessons and links relevant to the work we've published. And as a poet I've experimented with poems broken into parts. But I've only found one site that refers to these as "cleave" poems. The Cleave hasn't been active since 2010, but I like the description there of "a poem that is really three poems:"
  • two parallel vertical poems (left and right)
  • a third horizontal poem that fuses the vertical poems
The verb "cleave" is a perfect label, with its two opposite meanings: (1) "to sever or divide along a natural grain or line" and (2) "to stick fast, to become strongly involved or emotionally attached to."

Last year's Poetry Editor Kaye Linden and I particularly love Jacob Trask's "Splintered" (Bacopa Literary Review 2016) because it does all of the above, and also reflects upon itself in its title and its shape:

     the crack   in the frame
      is thin   almost nonexistent
    it runs   parallels
  from top   peak
    of jamb   too far
        almost   impossibly
   to the floor   it's in my head
    only through   this determined
     observation   everything
              all of it   the thought of it even
has been found   scarred, maybe
 deeply fractured   broken

Jacob Trask is a graduate student studying English with a focus in creative writing, The College at Brockport, State University of New York.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Misremembering Chekhov

by Editor in Chief Mary Bast

The nineteen works of creative nonfiction published in Bacopa Literary Review 2016 covered a wide variety of types and forms, including the brilliant hybrid narrative/memoir/essay, "Misremembering Chekhov," by Rebecca Ruth Gould.

Our 2017 call for submissions in four genres is now open, inviting creative nonfiction with "a moving inner voice" that "holds to the same standards as other literary forms while remaining grounded in fact." Gould's 2016 contribution (pp. 153-157) is a perfect example.

Notice how she begins by weaving personal experience with literary observations:
Chekhov was not my first love. More obviously delectable to a college freshman just returned from her first visit to St. Petersburg and discovering Russian literature for the first time were the thick novels of Dostoevsky and Tolstoy. Those "great, baggy monsters" (as Henry James called them) buoyed me up through my first marriage, my frantic conversion to Christianity, and my equally hasty divorce. . . . Dostoevsky's tortured heroines perfectly matched my overstrung mind, and his philosophical dialogues about the existence (or not) of God were the perfect object of reflection for my theologically conflicted soul . . . .
      Tolstoy struck a different chord, but one which was equally resonant. His ability to cut through racism and prejudice . . . Tolstoy did not pull at my heartstrings in quite the same way as Dostoevsky, but he did speak to my social conscience, and to my desire to make a difference in the world . . . .
      I did not have a chance to taste [Chekhov] until my final semester at Berkeley, after a whirlwind tour of the Russian canon. . . . For our first story, my professor had chosen Chekhov's "Lady with a Lapdog" . . . *
Now the author pulls us into her theme:
The most enduring impression I took away from that story . . . was that, to a much greater extent than Tolstoyevsky, Chekhov was a cynic. After depicting the blossoming of love between a younger woman and her elder lover, he showed how love is fated to not last. This is how I interpreted an unforgettable detail in the Yalta hotel room. . . . Anna Sergevevna laments her lost virginity while Gurov begins to feel bored. . . .
      Fast forward seventeen years. The Russian literary pantheon has lost some but by no means all of its glory to my readerly eyes. A long succession of other loves has intervened between me and Chekhov: Arabic, Persian, Georgian, not to mention the more familiar French, German, Italian, and Spanish. All of these literatures I have tried to know in some intimate way. But, in spite of my promiscuous disloyalty to other literature and languages, Russian keeps cropping up in unexpected ways. . . .
      One of the most unexpected ways in which Chekhov crops up is on an online dating profile on the website 'OKCupid.' A Brussels-based scientist lists Dostoevsky among his favourite authors . . . .
They meet in Paris:
Paris is like a dream. We spend our first full day together strolling through the Jardin du Luxembourg, talking non-stop about the books that impacted our lives . . .
      Unlike the way I read in my undergraduate years, we do not linger over the philosophical nuances of Dostoevsky's fictions. We do not ponder the existence (or not) of God. . . .
     You will have guessed, Dear Reader, that this was the beginning of love. And you will not have been wrong. It was indeed the beginning of a certain kind of passion. . . . Our peculiar love had a strangely short duration, and evaporated not long after it was born. Chekhov was the prophet of this evaporation. He foretold the entire story of our love in his "Lady with a Lapdog." 
Ah! Gould takes us to the realization implied in her story's title:
So I thought until I read the story again. . . . I discovered I had misremembered Chekhov's tone. I had taken him for an unadulterated cynic, when in fact "Lady with a Lapdog" depicts the gradual emergence of a love so intense that the world cannot contain it. . . . he was himself a romantic, a believer in the ability of love to overcome social conventions. . . .  My circuitous path towards love was more like the second reading than were the airbrushed tale of playboys and false affections that my undergraduate imagination had remembered . . . .  Chekhov tends to keep the devotion of those who have fallen in love with him for the rest of their writing lives. Perhaps the reason for this lies in his peculiar way of representing the world. Savouring Chekhov's flair for revealing the interstices of memory and forgetfulness makes it difficult to look away ever again.

Dr. Rebecca Ruth Gould is a writer, translator, and scholar whose books include Writers and Rebels: The Literatures of Insurgency in the Caucasus (Yale University Press, 2016), After Tomorrow the Days Disappear: Ghazals and Other Poems of Hasan Sijzi of Delhi (Northwestern University Press, 2016), and translator of The Prose of the Mountains: Tales of the Caucasus (Central European University Press, 2015). She teaches comparative literature and translation at the University of Bristol in the UK.

* Correspondence with Fiction Editor U.R. Bowie, also a Russian scholar, explains why there are various titles describing the dog in Chekhov's famous short story:
Me: "I'm trying to find the exact title for Chekhov's story about the lady with a dog. I've seen 'Lady with a Lapdog,' 'The Lady with a Pet Dog,' 'Lady with a Dog,' and other similar titles. This is the Russian: Дама с собачкой."

U.R, Bowie: "In Russian the sobachka of the title is a diminutive ("little dog"), but you can't get exactly that effect in English. Translators try by using terms like 'lapdog.' Of course, there is no 'correct' translation. To read the definitive Chekhov, you have to read him in Russian!"
And from The Possessed by Elif Batuman, page 20:
"In 'Lady with Lapdog,' Gurov's wife, Anna's husband, Gurov's crony at the club, even the lapdog, are all nameless. No contemporary American short-story writer would have had the stamina not to name that lapdog."

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Bain de Sang

Ivan de Monbrison's poetry, paintings, and sculptures have been displayed widely, in Paris, USA, England, Belgium, Barcelona, and other cities around the world. He has described his ghostly images as "incarnated in the canvas but not fully present." "For me," he writes, "art is the only answer in our modern world to the question of death and the fragility of human nature." Ivan's cover art for Oyster Boy Review 21 2014, "Janus with His Shadow," could as well frame the words of his poem in Bacopa Literary Review 2016 (in French first, then English):

Bain de Sang / Bloodshed
-- In memory of the victims in Paris of November 13, 2015 -- 
                            Bain de sang
la fatigue
on s'assied
les étoiles dans l'eau
le silence renversé
 on trinque
un verre à la main
mais on ne sait plus à quoi
autour d'une terrasse
           jonchée de cadavres
le sol peint en rouge
entonnoir de demain
un corps coupé en deux
la tête dans les nuages
          et les pieds sur la terre
et ce silence étrange qui a cousu nos lèvres
                 à la paume de nos mains

panoplies de nos corps
la nuit taillée
on dresse d'un coup le regard
cadavre éventré
 où fleurissent des mains
aux balcons des étoiles se posent les oiseaux
rien à dire
un pas de trop
         pour aller nulle part
au bout de cette course nous tombons en
citadelles sans créneaux       

we sit down
stars in the water
silence toppled down
  we toast
a glass in the hand
but we don't know to what
around the terrace
    covered with bodies
the ground painted in red
funnel of tomorrow
a body cut in half
the head in the clouds
           and the feet on the earth
and this odd silence which has sewed our lips
                    to the palm of our hands

outfit of our bodies
the night cut out
we raise our eyes suddenly
a cloud
a gutted corpse
  where hands are blooming
 birds landing on the balconies of the stars
nothing to say
one step too much
           to get to nowhere
at the end of this race we fall into
                                                        the dust
castles without crenels

November 16 2015 4.39 pm
French poet, writer, and artist Ivan de Monbrison lives in Paris and Marseille. His poems and short stories have appeared in literary magazines in France, Italy, Belgium, the UK, Canada, Australia, Switzerland, and the US. His five poetry chapbooks are L'ombre dechiree, Journal, La corde a nu, Ossuaire, and Sur-Faces. He has illustrated his own poem novel, Les Maldormants, published in 2014 by Ressouvenances Publishers, France. Of "Bloodshed" he says, "These poems were written after the killing of more than a hundred innocent people in the streets of Paris, on November 13, 2015, and so in memory of their martyrdom." Follow Ivan de Monbrison on Facebook here and on Twitter here.
Janus was the Roman two-faced god of beginnings and transitions and thus of gates, doors, doorways, endings, representing the middle ground between barbarity and civilization.

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

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!