Sunday, May 24, 2020

Criteria for Accept/Decline Decisions

"Kjell Espmark won't say if there are new criteria [for Nobel Literature Prizes]. 'What is important,' he says, 'is changing the criteria so the decision remains unpredictable.'" Stuart Tiffen, DW, Made for Minds.
Say what?

It is truly difficult to convey the criteria used for accept/decline decisions, but most literary journals at least try to clarify the type of work they seek.

As do other editors, we suggest reading recent issues of our publication to get a feel for what we publish. In addition, we describe the criteria each year in calls for submission.
    However, as we wrote notes within Submittable about entries during a recent submission period, one of our team members couldn't understand why we were accepting some pieces and declining others. This led to an informal round of emails to clarify our thoughts for each other. The editorial team suggested these might be useful for future submissions, as well. Some comments below:
    • I know from submitting my own work that a decline letter almost never meant the piece was not worthwhile. I've had poems declined by one publication and accepted by another. I've had rejections accompanied by a note from an editor who voted to accept but was outvoted by the rest of the editorial team. Now, after several years' experience with Bacopa, I've found almost every submission holds merit. Each choice of one piece over another is based on countless influences, a subtle blend of experience, education, what we've read historically and recently, personal preferences, themes developing in a given year's submissions, and whether we've already accepted something similar.
    • I accept pieces that capture my attention in the first sentence, inspire me to keep reading to the final period, don't go off on tangents (author sticks with the subject), have clear timelines, trigger emotions (such as empathy, fear, nostalgia), teach but don't preach (the message is conveyed through the story), make me smile, bring tears to my eyes, and/or cause me to continue thinking about the piece long after I've read it.
    • This is not an easy procedure. I have learned to detach in most cases when declining because it is a hard thing to reject and know from my own experience how that writer might feel. I have had my own pieces accepted with praise when the same piece might have been rejected multiple times by other journals. I have had books accepted by publishing companies after other rejections. We all respond according to our own emotional history. The one thing I have trouble judging is a political or religious piece. This takes detachment and the skill gained from experience. We each have bias, no question. However, I respond to writing with my gut. I either like it or I don't. Above all else, I will accept based on a powerful voice. A great voice will hook me every time. 
    • I try my damnedest to be flexible, both for the authors' sakes and for the sake of the publication, especially when my co-editors express strong opinions one way or another. That said, my criteria are roughly as follows: first and foremost, lively, engaging, fresh, and well-put together language, a relatively accessible or "universal" subject, or at least a perspective that hints at or touches universality or breadth or depth in some sense, even if it is radically individual or subjective. It is important to me that lively language is employed in the service of at least a few of the essential elements of poetry: compression of language (language operating on multiple levels at once via imagery, metaphor, symbolism, etc.), soundplay (rhyme, consonance, assonance, etc.), rhythm/pacing, appearance on the page (use of lineation, white space, stanza breaks, punctuation, etc.). The major criteria are those basics, plus whatever sense of the individual poet's voice I receive from the piece(s) and how that voice strikes my fancy/appeals to my sensitivities and sensibilities.
    Clearly, we have consensus that declining work does not mean it's without merit. And though we all use time-honored criteria for good writing in the various genres, we also agree that both conscious and unconscious personal preferences come into play.

    Take heart in knowing that even famous writers have been turned down at times, most rejections not quite so tongue-in-cheek as publisher Arthur Fifield's letter to Gertrude Stein:
    Dear Madam, I am only one, only one, only one. One one being, one at the same time. Not two, not three, only one. Only one life to live, only sixty minutes in one hour. Only one pair of eyes. Only one brain. Only one being. Being only one, having only one pair of eyes, having only one time, having only one life, I cannot read your M.S. three or four times. Not even one time. Only one look, only one look is enough. Hardly one copy would sell here. Hardly one. Hardly one.
    Sincerely yours,
    A.C. Fifield
    And this letter from Edward Weeks of The Atlantic in 1949, when Kurt Vonnegut was still unknown, hangs in the Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library in Indianapolis (Slaughter-House Five is rumored to have developed out of one of the rejected samples):
    Dear Mr. Vonnegut,

    We have been carrying out our usual summer house-cleaning of the manuscripts on our anxious bench and in the file, and among them I find the three papers which you have shown me as samples of your work. I am sincerely sorry that no one of them seems to us well adapted for our purpose. Both the account of the bombing of Dresden and your article, "What's a Fair Price for Golden Eggs?" have drawn commendation although neither one is quite compelling enough for final acceptance....
    In our standard Bacopa decline letter, we address each author by name/title of submitted work, express appreciation for the submission, and write,
    "Our editors have given your work careful consideration and decided it's not a fit for this issue. We wish you all the best in placing it elsewhere."
    We believe this accurately reflects the truth, and we do sincerely wish everyone who receives a decline letter from Bacopa will be successful in placing it elsewhere.

    Monday, April 27, 2020

    Guidelines Don't Limit Your Freedom!

    by Bacopa Literary Review Senior Editor Mary Bast

    Year after year, we're surprised by how many submissions ignore our guidelines. If you want to be published, why would you do that?

    Wouldn't you would want to be seen as thoughtful of the editors' time demands when considering the merits of a submission and its fit with a particular issue? If you haven't followed the guidelines, might we fairly assume you haven't read past issues or have any idea of the kind of work we publish?

    We are not trying to limit your freedom. We do not want to make your life more difficult. We have these guidelines because we want to give each submission the best chance of an unbiased and positive reaction.

    If we've asked for Arial font, size 12, why would you ignore that request? Aren't you at least curious about that choice, when you're so familiar with Times New Roman? This matters a great deal because we read submissions onscreen, and Arial size 12 is the best font and size for comfortable online reading (we receive more than a thousand submissions in the two-month submission period). The familiar serif font of Times New Roman ("little feet and embellishments on the tip and base of each letter") is fine for print, but more difficult to read online. Arial's "sans-serif" font (no embellishments), size 12 or larger, doesn't use as many pixels and is easier on the eyes, especially for long hours of onscreen reading.

    If you've identified yourself on the document after we've asked that you not do that, might we not assume you think your name should carry weight, because of your reputation or because we know you? We've set Submittable forms so we can't see the cover letter with author's name and experience until we either Accept or Decline. We do this to approach each piece afresh as best as we can, to let the work speak to us without knowing how many publications or literary awards (or lack thereof) the author can list, or how often we've had coffee together or shared similar views on Facebook. Of course there's always bias, some of it unconscious, and we've written about our own in this post.

    I'll let you in on a secret: I hate Times New Roman font. Even on a good day, when I'm feeling patient and haven't yet read ten submissions of close to 2500 words each, I still have to suppress my Times New Roman bias when I hit Ctrl+A ("select all") and change the font to Arial so I can read it with my already fatigued eyes.

    Thursday, April 16, 2020

    2020 Contest Open Until May 31!

    $300 First Prize, $100 Second Prize in each; all contributors receive a print copy of the issue, prize winners receive 3 copies.

    FICTION: Send us the best fiction you can write (1000-3000 words). We care about well-written stories that make us feel or think and leave us with memories that will stick with us for years to come. No matter the subject, be it genre or literary fiction, what matters is the effect your story has on us.

    CREATIVE NONFICTION: We publish true stories up to 2500 words, written beautifully, and based on the author’s experiences, perceptions, and reflections in the form of personal memoir or literary essay (for example, nature, travel, medical, spiritual, food writing).  

    POETRY: Let us hear your particular voice. Ground your words in the world, or the body, or both. Break genres and bend boundaries, or pour your own cosmos into, and extract alternate universes from, hoary ancestral forms.

    SHORT-SHORT: Writing short is a unique skill. Short-shorts include fiction stories of 750 words or fewer with a clear story line, minimalistic tight writing and compressed story structure. There is no minimum on word count. We love 25-word hint fiction as much as 750-word stories.

    HUMOR: Make us laugh in any literary form up to 1500 words intended to be humorous. This can include personal essays, satire, poetry, short fiction, grocery lists, manifestos, or modified insurance policies.

    Wednesday, April 8, 2020

    Melding Music and Memory

    by Bacopa Literary Review 2019 contributor Korena Di Roma Howley

    With "A Soundtrack for Early Motherhood," I didn't set out to write something that could be called mixed genre, but whatever I managed to put on the page ultimately came together like the days themselves--out of bits and pieces of light, weather, movement, and memory.

    New to motherhood and new to Montana, I was also newly capable of the kind of stillness and repetition that those early months demand and that would, looking back, serve as a sort of trial for living in the world in 2020. After all, in ordinary times parents of newborns are often struck by the sudden isolation that comes with needing to shield the vulnerable from all that's toxic and transmittable.

    During those days, I must have played Mark Knopfler's Princess Bride score a hundred times, it being the only album that both lulled my infant to sleep without fail and stood up to that level of repeat listening. Uncoupled from the wider exuberance of the movie, many of the songs--with their soaring synth instrumentals and plucked guitar accompaniment--have a worldly flair that's overlaid with mystery and melancholy.

    Initially, the music made me think of the future, of a time when I might hear it and be transported to our first full winter in Montana, when my son still fell asleep in my arms and the daylight shifted noticeably, hour by hour. I wanted my future self to cast her mind back to my present and describe what she saw. 

    But the songs kept pulling me into the past, and particularly to a school year in the early nineties that somehow managed to assert itself above all the others. As I listened, images and impressions from that year would surface through the dense commotion of decades. Wide library tables stenciled with slivers of tropical sunlight. "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner" read aloud. The opening theme of National Geographic Explorer and the ripples of excitement that it sent through the last class of the day. So many moments to choose from, but the stars won out in the end.

    *    *    *
    Korena Di Roma Howley writes about science, food, and travel for print and online publications. Her prose poem "Mary Is in the Marketplace" recently appeared in Unbroken Journal. You'll find her mixed genre work, "A Soundtrack for Early Motherhood," on pp. 126-127 of Bacopa Literary Review 2019.

    $300 First Prize or $100 Second Prize in each of five genres

    Friday, March 27, 2020

    Hermit Crab Essay: One Story in the Shell of Another

    By Bacopa Literary Review Senior Editor Mary Bast
    "A hermit crab is a strange animal, born without the armor to protect its soft, exposed abdomen. And so it spends its life occupying the empty, often beautiful, shells left behind by snails or other mollusks. It reanimates these shells, making of them a strange, new hybrid creature . . . we've dubbed a particular form . . . the hermit crab essay, [which] appropriates other forms as an outer covering, to protect its soft, vulnerable underbelly." (Tell It Slant: Writing and Shaping Creative Nonfiction, Brenda Miller and Suzanne Paola, p. 111)
    Miller and Paola demonstrate this hybrid form with Lorrie Moore's "How to Become a Writer" (from her collection Self Help), a personal account told in the style of a "how-to" column. 

    Similarly, 2019 Creative Nonfiction contributor Perry P. Perkins' "No,You Don't Understand" begins as an opinion piece: 
    It seems like every day I see some new politician or news personality or celebrity talk-show host discussing a recent eye-opening, life-changing experience of living for a month on a 'Food Stamp Challenge,' the simulated grocery budget of a family on food stamps.
         Invariably, when the receipts are tallied at the end of the month and the last journal entry or blog post is made, the summation of the experience begins with a heartfelt "I never understood before . . ."
    Perkins then bridges to his personal story by assuring the reader "I appreciate the desire to help and the compassion or empathy or social awareness . . . that comes along with this experiment." Very quickly, though, the frustration and anger of his own experience begins to illuminate the shell of an opinion piece about understanding poverty:
         Don't think that you can load up a couple of bags of cheap groceries in the back of your Outback, cruise on home to your nice house in the 'burbs, fix dinner in your modern kitchen . . . and know what it's like to be poor . . .
          Until then, all you've done is shopped like us.
         Until you have carried those groceries home a hundred times through two bus transfers and walked eight blocks through a rainstorm past the drug deal in the parking lot and up two flight of stairs to an apartment that may have had the electricity turned off . . .
          Until then, you don't understand. . .
    The author continues sharing his personal experience within the shell of an opinion piece, repetitively drumming the refrain, "Until then, you don't understand," and ending with advice that will strike at the heart of every one of us now living with the uncertainties of the Covid-19 pandemic, many of whom will be suffering the fate of Perkins' childhood:
        Volunteer at a food bank, contact a local ministry or non-profit, and be part of an outreach program. Give to local charities, become a constant, burning, unyielding, pain-in-the-ass advocate to your local politicians and decision makers. And God bless those of you who do these things.
         If, however, you really want to know what it's like to be poor, so you've "been there, done that," do me a favor . .. do it for a year, or five, or ten . . .in my old neighborhood, on foot, in the cold and dark, with your children.
         Until then, no . . . you don't understand.
    *     *     *

    Perry T. Perkins is a writer, columnist, and professional blogger who's been published in magazines from Guideposts and Writer's Digest to Bass Master and Bible Advocate. His work has been included in 16 Chicken Soup anthologies, and he writes a monthly column, "Renaissance Dad," for Vancouver Family Magazine.

    Only four more days until submissions open 
    for Bacopa Literary Review 2020!
    Maybe you'll win the $300 First Prize or $100 Second Prize
    in one of our five genres!

    Saturday, March 21, 2020

    A Journal of the Plague Year

    by Bacopa Literary Review Senior Editor Mary Bast
    Being observations or memorials of the most remarkable occurrences, as well public as private, which happened in London during the last great visitation in 1665. Written by a Citizen who continued all the while in London. Never made public before. (Daniel Defoe, "A Journal of the Plague Year")
    Daniel Defoe is best known for his novel Robinson Crusoe. But he was a prolific writer of more than 300 works on politics, crime, religion, marriage, psychology, and the supernatural. He wrote about everything that drew his interest, so--of course--when the plague began to threaten Londoners, he decided to remain in the city and chronicle its progress.

    As deaths began to be reported, Londoners of 1665 reacted much as we in the U.S. have reacted to early reports of  "a corona virus" from other parts of the world--initial concern, then forgetting about it, reading more specific information about "COVID-19," but raising our hopes again and back to life as usual. Until it was upon us.

    Well, it's here, and while self-isolating to help flatten the curve (two phrases most of us had never uttered before last week), things can be a little too quiet. So why not use the time to write some creative nonfiction?

    We can learn from those who suffered the AIDS plague, of which Andrew Sullivan writes, "Like wars, plagues can make us see where we are, shake us into a new understanding of the world, reshape our priorities, and help us judge what really matters and what actually doesn't." Many good fiction, nonfiction and poetic works came from writers affected by and/or documenting, "a body of work that educates even as it confronts . . .."

    Interestingly, long before there were rumors of the scary year to come, we at Bacopa Literary Review decided to invite literary essays (nature, travel, medical, spiritual, food writing) in our Creative Nonfiction category, as well as personal memoir.

    The literary quality of writing is still primary to us, with emphasis on the word literary. As noted in my first year as Senior Editor, creative nonfiction is in some ways like jazz, fact-based writing that metaphorically has the quality of ragtime or classic, bebop or swing, the blues or even a cross-rhythm--in other words, a moving inner voice.

    Good creative nonfiction can be as experimental as other literary forms while remaining grounded in fact. It is writing-of-the-real that incorporates the styles and elements of any good writing such as sense of place, voice, and character development.

    Maybe you'll win the $300 First Prize or $100 Second Prize
    in one of our five genres!

    Thursday, March 19, 2020

    Questioning Your Own Reality

     By Bacopa Literary Review Senior Editor Mary Bast
    Gaslighting is a pattern of manipulation tactics used by abusers, narcissists, dictators, and cult leaders to gain control over a person or people. The goal is to make the victim or victims question their own reality and depend on the gaslighter. "Are Gaslighters Aware of What They Do?" by Stephanie A. Sarkis, PhD, Psychology Today, January 30, 2017.
    Much is being said these days about political gaslighting, conversations about "fake" news, twisting of details meant to make us question our understanding of reality. And now--in the wake of COVID-19--a dawning awareness that the world as we knew it has dramatically changed, yet still thinking to some degree "This can't be happening." Even when we admit the awful truth, denial defends us as we engage in escapist strategies to help us cope.

    Perhaps now is the time to better understand the nature of gaslighting in childhood, experiencing--beyond the words of 2019 Creative Nonfiction contributor River Kozhar--the horror of a tortured existence where everyone outside the family wants to believe "This can't be happening." 
     "When My Cat Died"
    River Kozhar

    When my mother gaslit me as a child, telling me over and over that what I was experiencing wasn't bad enough to be traumatic, I began to feel that what I was saying didn't actually reflect the horror of my childhood . . .      
         They were serial killers, but no one seemed to have the slightest idea that was the case. Guests would come and tell me how wonderful they were. They couldn't see the burn marks . . . the scars . . . never heard the words . . . whispered into the quiet corners of my life like poisonous wraiths until I forgot where they originated . . .  
         Children's Aid came once, when my parents were not so careful, but they left me there . . . dismissing it as a one-time thing. It was, however, shortly thereafter that I received a gift from my parents--two kittens . . .
         That nightmare was a dungeon in some abyss of the world, a hall of narrow cells always damp with blood or tears . . . and it did not take my life for two reasons: I had a vague recollection of love from my early years and had glimpsed goodness in people from the outside world, both of which gave me impossible hope; and I had two neighbours in the cells next to mine . . .
         They became my kin as well as my cellmates, but they were not human. Like some Tarzan of the feline world, I was raised by cats . . . slowly learned their language and their culture . . . learned to track scents on the wind, to walk in a circle before I curled up to sleep . .  how to snarl like a jaguar, how to wake to the particular meow that that meant someone had brought back a kill, how to purr, how to say I love you . . . 
    *     *     *
    River Kozhar has published prose and poetry in 15+ literary magazines and is seeking an agent for her second novel, a diverse NA/YA fantasy romance. Her nonfiction (under this nom-de-plume) has also appeared in the Deaf Poets Society. She lives in Kingston, Ontario, Canada.

    (Read the rest of River Kozhar's "When My Cat Died" (pp. 96-100), plus
    more Creative Nonfiction, Poetry, Mixed Genre, Fiction, and Haiku
    in Bacopa Literary Review 2019, Print Edition or Digital Format)

    Friday, March 13, 2020

    Everything About Today is Violet

    by Bacopa Literary Review Senior Editor Mary Bast

    Today the US President has declared a National Emergency, and we are reminded of our connection to all living beings, beginning with the animals we slay and eat and from which COVID-19 leapt across species, stretching to our fellow human beings around the globe during a time of shared crisis.

    We are reminded that those of us who lead relatively safe lives too easily forget the frightening conditions experienced by many, many others, until we also are frightened.

    And so it seems the time to bring forth "Everything About Today is Violet" by Bacopa 2019 contributor Ojo Taiye, from Nigeria.
    Everything About Today is Violet
    Ojo Taiye 
    everyone i love is dead. & a field of charred bones flaking off the low Bogoro veldts is enough to say there is a giant girl in my belly craving salt-fish. i dial a number but cannot speak. today a boy curls a soft query over the lobes of my ears: do you write poems that speak to troubled teens? & i alphabetize my grief by country of origin, Borno comes first. yesterday is one place to bury two million undocumented displaced children & what you say after. i am the grand-daughter of a butcher: my mother comes from a long line of turban boys who sing jihad of evolution & teddy boys, a scar roves through my skin & the spark smells like a hemorrhage of bodies raised alongside us as nations. a pool of sorrows asking for exits: how we all want to rinse ourselves of last night's fire only to sink to the lower decks of summer's spare room of loneliness. my mouth is too dry to translate this search for words & words & words--a bowl of howls every time i cut garlic for happiness like a doorknob in a hallway that doesn't exist.
    *    *    *
    Ojo Taiye is a young Nigerian who uses poetry to hide his frustration with society. His poems and works have appeared in Rattle, Frontier Poetry, Palette, The Stinging Fly, Notre Dame Review, Vallum, Crannog, Argot, Brittle Paper, Glass Journal, Elsewhere, Eunoia Review, Lit Mag, Juke, Praxis Magazine, and elsewhere.

    Tuesday, March 10, 2020

    Killer Words: "Admirable Men"

    by Bacopa Literary Review Senior Editor Mary Bast
    The U.S. government introduced the Kudzu vine into the ecosystem in the 1930s to prevent soil erosion . . . instead . . . Kudzu chokes trees and plants that it grows near, climbs buildings, and destroys foundations. ("Killer Words," in 12 Thought Provoking Examples of Irony in History, Literary Devices: Definition and Examples of Literary Terms)
    We're all familiar with the notion of irony. A particular version is situational irony, which occurs when there's "a twist that plays with the expectations of the audience."

    When I first read J. Nishida's 2019 poetry submission, "Pantoum: Admirable Men," I noted to Poetry Editor J.N. Fishhawk that "simply reading it to myself created a deep shock."

    Fishhawk responded, "And indeed, when Nishida reads it live from the Civic Media Center stage, the power is intense--shock, anger, grief, it all comes through . . . putting that power and feeling into such a strict formal piece--quite an accomplishment."

    Nishida's perfect presentation of the pantoum poetic form* makes "Admirable Men" a notable example of situational irony--line after line begins with "he said... he said... he said..." and the title leads us to expect.the rest of each line will laud achievements of a particular admirable man. Instead we are challenged, line by line, with killer** words:

    Pantoum: Admirable Men
    J. Nishida
    he said, if there are many, shattering one is an act of artistic discovery, not destruction
    he said, if she'd only tell him the truth, he could truly love her, possess her
    he said, she's too naive, too simplistic; he explained, the vomit rising in her throat is not valid
    he said, the slaying of his finest herds was an act of selfless penance
    he said, if she'd only tell him the truth, he could truly love her, possess her
    he said, in personal growth to strength, one must not fear the act of destruction
    he said, the slaying of his finest herds was an act of selfless penance
    he said, blondes make the best victims

    he said, in personal growth to strength, one must not fear the act of destruction
    he said, it was her face that launched a thousand ships and burnt the city's towers
    he said, blondes make the best victims
    he said, the achievement of military objectives justifies collateral damage

    he said, it was her face that launched a thousand ships and burnt the city's towers
    he said, were he to come back as woman, she must have beauty to have value
    he said, the achievement of military objectives justifies collateral damage
    he said, he burned them without even looking, he deemed stupidity love for a woman

    he said, were he to come back as woman, she must have beauty to have value
    he said, he'd win his wager by show of her obedience
    he said, he burned them without even looking; he deemed stupidity love for a woman
    he said, don't you think it's worth it? Their suffering, for human advancement?

    he said, he'd win his wager by show of her obedience
    he said, only the shallow take her slaying literally, the deep see empowering symbolism
    he said, don't you think it's worth it? Their suffering, for human advancement?
    he said, do not permit her to preach, to teach; she must cover up her head

    he said, only the shallow take her slaying literally; the deep see empowering symbolism
    he said, she's too naive, too simplistic; he explained, the vomit rising in her throat is not valid
    he said, do not permit her to preach, to teach; she must cover up her head
    he said, if there are many, shattering one is an act of artistic discovery, not destruction
    *Four-line stanzas, the second and fourth lines becoming the first and third lines of the next stanza, and often the first line becomes the last.

    **Synonyms for killer: hunter, slayer, assassin, butcher, slaughterer, executioner, exterminator, cut-throat, gunman, hitman, murderer. 

     *    *   *
    J. Nishida came to Gainesville in 1989 and has yet to escape. She's been a student of science, education,. language, linguistics, and literature, working variously as a teacher, library story lady, mom, and with non-profits supporting arts and education. Sometimes host of Gainesville's Thursday PoJam.

    (Read more Poetry, Mixed Genre, Fiction, Haiku, and Creative Nonfiction works
    in Bacopa Literary Review 2019, Print Edition or Digital Format)

    Thursday, March 5, 2020

    Too Many Promises

    by Bacopa Literary Review Senior Editor Mary Bast
    3-year Alan Kurdi, 2 September 2015

    In an earlier post devoted to mixed genre, Kaye Linden and I described this form as a powerful voice that evokes emotion or imagery in writing that merges, blends, or removes the definitions from traditional genres.

    Our 2019 Honorable Mention prize in Mixed Genre went to CB Follett's "Photograph of a Very Young Boy," a perfect example of work that crosses traditional boundaries, offering many layers of story in only 94 heartrending words:
    CB Follett, 2010-2013 Marin County Poet Laureate, multiple Pushcart Prize nominee, recipient of many awards and prizes--including a Marin Arts Council Grant for Poetry--and author of 11 poetry books and several chapbooks, was editor/publisher of Arctos Press for 25 years and co-editor/publisher of RUNES: A Review of Poetry. (See also A Cry Breaks the Silence" in Canary: A Literary Journal of the Environmental Crisis.)

    *    *    *
    (Read more Mixed Genre, Fiction, Haiku, Poetry, and Creative Nonfiction works
    in Bacopa Literary Review 2019, Print Edition or Digital Format)

    Sunday, March 1, 2020

    Haiku: The Art of Implication

     by Bacopa Literary Review Senior Editor Mary Bast
    Haiku . . . the shortest of short verses, with an intentional rearrangement of words . . . to tempt the reader's reaction beyond that of the words laid down. (Alan Summers, "Haiku: The Art of Implication over Explication," The Living Haiku Anthology)
    Our 2019 Honorable Mention in Haiku was awarded to Ed Bremson for "old oak tree." The first time I read this haiku, when I reached the third line I burst into tears. And now, I'm simply at a loss for words and must let this lovely version of an ancient tradition speak for itself:
    the old oak tree . . .
    its history told in rings
    and losses
    Ed Bremson earned a BA in Philosophy from North Carolina State University and an MFA in Creative Writing from National University. An award-winning haiku poet, he has been published in various English language and Japanese journals and in 2017-2018 was three times NHK Haiku Master of the Week on Japanese TV. He also won grand prize in the 2018 World Haiku Competition. Ed lives in Raleigh, NC.

    *    *    *
    (Read more Haiku, Poetry, Mixed Genre, Fiction, and Creative Nonfiction works
    in Bacopa Literary Review 2019, Print Edition or Digital Format)

    Wednesday, February 26, 2020

    This Will Bring You To Your Knees

    by Bacopa Literary Review Senior Editor, Mary Bast
    "Stoicism is not about repressing your emotions and neglecting the truth of a situation . . . Learning to be in charge of your emotions rather than letting them control you is a powerful experience that grief can provide. Lean into your sorrow, but refuse to sulk." Daily Stoic: Ancient Wisdom for Everyday Life.
    We humans lean into sorrow in a variety of ways. When we can experience loss while at the same time connecting with the soul of human experience, we search for words that capture transcendence and anguish simultaneously.

    The phrase I use originated with a dear friend who introduced me to Albinoni's Adagio for Strings and Organ in G Minor, promising, "This will bring you to your knees."

    And it did. Metaphorically I was "on my knees," in awe that such music is possible. Organically I experienced, in minor-key consonant chords, what one study refers to as "the neural correlates of the perception of beauty."

    Consonant minor key chords are echoed in fictional depictions of loss that burn into our bones quietly.

    Thus does Fiction Honorable Mention winner B.W. Jackson's "Inheritance" draw readers in, with stoic, sotto voce tones, to the unfolding of events in the life of Jacob and the dog Max:
    . . . When Gabe was gone, Jacob returned to the living room and sat back down in the armchair next to the bookcase. . .
          "Max," called Jacob.
          The dog did not move. Jacob stood up in front of the bookcase, where some books had fallen down and others were leaning precariously. He let his eyes glide over the shelves, seeing only the negative space between the books. He looked across the room to the bare carpet, compressed where the legs of a sofa had been. The emptied room seemed to have shrunk. As Jacob stared at the carpet, Max slowly approached and nestled his head under his hand. . .
          Jacob had moved back home to tend to his father . . . developed a routine . . began going through boxes of fabric and knickknacks in the attic . . ferreted out expired condiments in cabinets . . . Slowly, the house changed. . .
          As clutter receded, Jacob added touches of carpentry .  . With each passing year, Jacob's eyes opened to the beauty and character of the house. . .
         In the year before his death, their father had suggested that Jacob should inherit the family home. The siblings had agreed that the house was fair compensation for Jacob's years as caretaker. . .
         Every moment he had spent tending to his father, he devoted to working on the house.
         Max stayed by his side.
         When the movers were gone . . An enervating sadness swept over Jacob. He sensed that the soul of the house had fled. . . got down onto the hard floor on his knees and put his hands on Max. . . lay on his stomach next to the dog, remaining there with his hand on the dog's ribs until the sun went down . . .
         "Richard. I didn't expect you."
         The brothers nodded at each other. They shook hands. . .
         Jacob slumped into the armchair next to the bookcase. Richard sat down adjacent from him, holding the book on his lap. Max roamed into the room and pushed his head beneath Jacob 's hand, which was hanging off the armrest.
          "The kids want the dog, Jacob". . .
    (Read the rest of B.W. Jackson's "Inheritance" (pp. 141-147) and other works
    in Bacopa Literary Review 2019, Print Edition or Digital Format)
    *   *    *
    B.W. Jackson lives in New York's Hudson Valley. His story "Write and Wrong" was nominated for a Pushcart Prize.

    Friday, February 21, 2020

    Write What You Know

    by Bacopa Literary Review Associate Editor James Singer

    One of the most common pieces of advice for budding writers is to “write what you know.” But what does that actually mean? Does it mean to write about events that have happened in your life? Does it mean that you should only write about subjects which you know? Does it maybe mean that you should gather inspiration from aspects of your life, be that feelings or relationships or experiences? In my experience, “write what you know” can encompass any and all of these.

    You can write about your own life, in the form of a memoir or travel journals or other such creative nonfiction. By doing so, you share your experiences with others, help people going through similar trials and tribulations to what you’ve gone through. This sort of writing is also a way to memorialize your life, to be remembered and leave a legacy for future generations.

    Another way to write what you know is to write about subjects you know well. For example, a truck driver writing stories about life on the road, a retired detective writing mysteries, or a historian writing historical fiction. And if you don’t know the subject, then know what you write: do research, learn about what is involved in your story. If you do this, your story will be that much more believable, and you won’t have someone who does know the subject telling you what you got wrong.

    Sometimes you can go a little farther, and rather than writing directly about what you’ve experienced or centering your writing around a knowledge base, there will be some experience or feeling, some event, anything that catches your imagination, and it will be a seed that turns into a story later down the road. Oftentimes, the story that results will barely resemble the event that inspired it, but the roots can be traced back to it, back to something you know. 

    No matter how you “write what you know,” in the end what matters is that you’re writing.

    *    *    *
     This post appeared first in the Writers Alliance of Gainesville blog;
    reprinted here with permission.

    Tuesday, February 18, 2020

    Red Elegy: Beginnings Gasping Their Last

    by Bacopa Literary Review Senior Editor Mary Bast
    An elegy is a lament. It sets out the circumstances and character of a loss . . . in all societies, death constitutes a cultural event . . . as well as an individual loss. (pp. 167-168, The Making of a Poem: A Norton Anthology of Poetic Forms, Mark Strand and Eavan Boland, New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2000).
    Of the two poems we nominated for a Pushcart Prize last year, an earlier post describes Raphel Kosek's "When the Saints Come Among Us." Bacopa 2019's other Pushcart-nominated poem is "Red Elegy," by Miranda Sun.

    As do all elegies, Sun's connects us, invites us to mourn together, echoing shared memories, seeking consolation in our common grief.

    Classic elegies ("Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard," "Epitaph,"  "A Dirge," "Stop all the clocks") have no characteristic metrical structure. What most denotes this poetic form is its public utterance. And so all of us are called to Miranda Sun's "Red Elegy" from its beginning line, "Morning comes over the hills like war," to tulips with "blood rising in their throats," to salmon "gasping their last," to a fox "burned black to the bone," to holding a new born rabbit knowing "that is all you have:"
    Morning comes over the hills like war.
    Once we bore witness, you and I, with
    our child eyes. To dawn with her
    rosy fingers rubbed raw, knuckles blistered
    with horizon.

    That meadow we used to run through.
    Tulips repeating themselves, red iteration,
    blood rising in their throats.

    Salmon returning to rivers, full of scarlet,
    life spawning warm from their bodies. Beginnings
    gasping their last against the gravel. I hope you know
    that's not the only way to come home . . .
    (Read the rest of Miranda Sun's "Red Elegy" (pp. 58-59) and other works
    in Bacopa Literary Review 2019, Print Edition or Digital Format)

    *    *    *
    Miranda Sun is twenty years old. An alumna of the NYS Summer Young Writers Institute and Kenyon Review Young Writers Workshop, her work has been nationally recognized by the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards and published in Body Without Organs, Lammergeir, TRACK//FOUR, Red Queen, riverbabble, Sobotka, YARN, The Gravity of the Thing, and more. She loves bubble tea and aquariums, and currently reads for Ninth Letter Online.

    Saturday, February 15, 2020

    No Way I can SHRINK my Story into 100 Words!

    By Bacopa Literary Review Short-Short Fiction editor Kaye Linden

    Cutting a 1000 or 750-word story to 100 words is a lesson in bare bones writing. Why shrink a story down to its essential storyline?

    The process offers significant awareness in the art and process of discovery. When honing a story to its foundation, writers will not only realize the essential storyline of a longer work, but might find infractions of other story elements; for example, inconsistencies in point of view (whose story is it?), benefits of past versus present tense, overuse of to be verbs, excessive dialogue or screaming dialogue tags, and the use of too many characters or their names. If a story appears awkward, rambling, disappointing, confusing, or needs rewriting, then shrinking is the way to go. (PS: this works for novels, as well!)

    The first step in this process, of course, is to write the initial story without judgment or editing. This uncensored experience of rambling might intimidate new writers and challenge the experienced to allow wordiness.

    In the second step of the process, the writer cuts the story from 750 words to 250 words, then reads the 250-word version to others to hear where the story might benefit from a rewrite. In my class, students offer positive feedback to help identify areas for improvement.

    The third step in the process, cutting to 100 words, challenges writers the most. They do not want to get rid of their favorite lines or characters. Their egos begin to shout. Grimaces and moans appear out of nowhere. If willing, this is where writers will learn the most about clarity. The experience is a freeing, mindful lesson in letting go and regrouping. If the piece of work reads as confusing in 100 words, then the story essence needs a rework.

    The fourth step in the process is to rethink and expand back out to a 750-word story. The contrast in skillful techniques after this "write of passage" is inspiring. The students in my class take six weeks to complete this process while workshopping each step. The catharsis, the celebration, the liberation is extraordinary.

    Join us for the upcoming short story class with workshopping:
    Writing Very Short Stories, Santa Fe College Adult Education, ENG0020.1F1 
    The class begins April 2 and runs for six Thursdays from 6 PM to 7:30 PM. Registration opens March 11, 2020.

    Kaye Linden
    35 Tips for Writing a Brilliant Flash Story 

    Wednesday, February 12, 2020

    Wood for the Taking

    by Poetry Contributor Matthew J. Spireng

    My poem "Wood for the Taking," which appeared in Bacopa Literary Review 2017, is included in my full-length book manuscript, Good Work, which has just won the 2019 Sinclair Prize and is to be published by Evening Street Press.

    "Wood for the Taking" is one of many poems I've written about woodcutting. I heat two houses in upstate New York with firewood I cut and split by hand on my 54 acres of woodland. Confronted with a huge uprooted shagbark hickory--about the best firewood there is--I mulled its dangers and wrote this poem as I did. Ultimately I got a logger friend of mine to cut through the upper of the hickory's two trunks, making it possible for me to reduce the tree to firewood with less possibility of winding up in the ground myself.

     *    *    *
    Matthew J. Spireng's books are What Focus Is (WordTech Communications); Out of Body (Bluestem Press), winner of the 2004 Bluestem Poetry Award; and Good Work (Evening Street Press), winner of the 2019 Sinclair Prize. His is also the author of five chapbooks and is a ten-time Pushcart Prize nominee.

    Saturday, February 1, 2020

    Fees: An Obstacle to Best, Most Diverse Writing

    by Bacopa Literary Review Senior Editor Mary Bast
    A $3 fee might not sound like much, but the average short story might receive around 20 rejections before it's published . . . Reading fees also pose an extra obstacle in the literary community's efforts to be more diverse . . . Fees ensure that people who have disposable income will submit the most . . . ("Should Literary Journals Charge Writers Just to Read Their Work?" Joy Lanzendorfer, The Atlantic, Oct. 25, 2015)
    Every year our editorial board reviews the finances of publishing a print journal, and considers the obvious arithmetic of submission fees to offset the cost of prizes, layout, printing (we editors are volunteers). There's more to consider than the obvious, though, when our goal is to publish top quality work from a diverse group of writers and poets.

    Any journal of our size is in competition with thousands of other print and online literary magazines for the best work. So it's helped me to draw from my former business--built on writing and internet presence--to think of Bacopa Literary Review as a small, nonprofit business with a vision, goals, and action plans. As with any organization that wants to succeed in its field, our core values and their priorities must be clear: Economy? Service? Excellence?

    Of course excellent writing is key, and going into my fifth year as Senior Editor, our team has become more and more clear that "excellence" includes a diversity consistent with worldwide diversity of fine writers--diversity of age (and thus cohort groups--whose styles, issues, and concerns differ decade by decade), of gender identification (not just males and females--an increasingly useless dichotomy), of geographic location (authors in our 2019 issue come from 12 countries and across the U.S.), of literary background (from well-published septuagenarians to recently hatched MFAs of all ages, to a college student who's never published before).

    A close second to excellence in our vision is service, interacting with and congratulating writers and poets by email, in this blog, Facebook, and Twitter; making sure they see within days that their submissions are being reviewed, responding quickly when we know a submission is not quite a fit for a given year's issue, and accepting especially good pieces right away so we don't lose them to another journal. When contributors notify us that they've later published books, we feature them here. Starting with the 2019 issue, we've also invited contributors to send posts about their work in Bacopa, to promote our writers and poets as much as we can.

    Economy runs third as a core value for Bacopa--important, but not as important as excellence and service. We've experimented with fees, and though the current team has never charged more than $3 per submission, it is clear that we receive the finest and most diverse writing when we don't charge a fee. We do stay within the budget of a general annual cost estimate, and we're fortunate that our sponsor, Writers Alliance of Gainesville, is willing and able to foot the average $3000/year (not including the many hours donated by our editorial team in what is mostly a labor of love). If we charged fees we'd have fewer submissions, and thus less work, but we'd also lose some of the best writers and have a much less diverse publication.

    *   *   *

    On April 1, our literary doors will open to writers of 
    fiction, short-short fiction, creative nonfiction, poetry, and humor.
    Join us!!!

    Monday, January 27, 2020

    Submit, Submit, Submit

    by Bacopa Literary Review Senior Editor Mary Bast

    Lynn Geri, contributor to Bacopa Literary Review 2016 and one of our Pushcart nominees, has recently published two collections with Brierly Press, Mother and I Submit.

    In the letter to us that accompanied copies of her books, Lynn wrote ". . . you were the first people to give me encouragement to continue writing. Thank you with all my heart for your support."

    Lynn included the following in I Submit's "About the Author" section:
    After a lifetime of moving around the world, Lynn Geri has settled on the west coast of the United States, Bellinghham, Washington, with her sweetheart Richard. She has moved from Alaska to Florida, Salt Lake to Los Angeles, China to Germany and too many stops between.
         She didn't begin writing until she reached her seventh decade. She bought one of those old people's recliners and picked up a computer. It's all been flying pages since.
         Her 356th submission was accepted for publication in a literary magazine. So, she tells all dear beginning writers, rejection letters are part of the process. Laugh, actively surrender . . . Submit, Submit, Submit. It's such a good life practice.

    Monday, January 20, 2020

    What Aches: A Special Affection for Place

    By Bacopa Literary Review 2019 poetry contributor Elena Botts

    These sentences of what aches, below, broken into a verse, are (of course) formed due to memories. I expect I'll always be the kind to think that memories are a marvelous place to dwell. Of course, one might embrace a certain number of ideas over a lifetime, and these are often so broad they may account for a great amount of devotion in a person--religiosity or spirituality might come to be foundational for much of one's worldview and therein one might cultivate all sorts of emotion. Also, one might love people, which is particular though not small.

    Place, though, fits somewhere in between, and I have a special affection for place, perhaps because it answers naturally to one's spiritual affectations while maintaining real substance and form, and as such, just being somewhere can be like contact with the beyond. Perhaps because mountains do not "feel" in return; they simply are, set against the sky. Here was something that was greater than anyone, but still I felt particular towards: I spent some time in "the hills" of Elizaville and Milan, in the wintertime, a landscape to which I suffered in addiction, one that I considered sacred and even now am still glad of, and mourn.

    Eventually, however, I reached an end and due to my complete commitment to these brown hills and staccato power lines, I suffered from an illness profound enough to take me from this sacred place. It was a heartbreak derived from the thing I loved, from the insanity of my continuous destructive and holy escape, that caused me to part from it, not due to the end of desire but due to my own extinguishment, as paralleled by the limitations of my body, and thereafter I was as weak as an old man, moving slowly about an 18th century farmhouse, nearly falling through the white wooden floors, always in the delirium of loss, and beginning to summon ghosts with my thoughts. This was an easy death; this was the inevitable and sought-after end.

    Of course, this was all but a tremendous mental exercise and even writing here demonstrates the extent to which one might come to delude oneself in the pursuit of meaning or feeling anything after all. Still, were you to ask if I believed in anything, I'd say: "the hills."

    *     *     *    *
    Elena Botts is author of six published books, winner of four poetry contests, her poems have appeared in dozens of literary magazines (including Madness Muse Press, The Opiate, ), and her award-winning visual artwork exhibited in various galleries. She's collaborated on, released, and exhibited sound and moving image art.

    Read Elena Botts' "what aches" (p. 152) and other works
    in Bacopa Literary Review 2019 (Print Edition or Digital Format).