Sunday, May 27, 2018

Art Imitates Life: Every Story has Two Sides

by Bacopa Literary Review Editor in Chief Mary Bast
Charles Baxter pursues his tough-minded ideas -- steeled as they are by paradox and contradiction -- without ever losing sight of the quieter truths revealed in ordinary lives. Kirkus Review
After reading Charles Baxter's First Light, I sat quite stunned at how completely individual and well-wrought were each of his very different characters. Hugh Welch is an ordinary guy who sells cars and thinks about sports. His sister Dorsey is a brilliant astrophysicist. The thoughts and actions of Hugh and Dorsey are so completely drawn, I felt as if I'd been transported inside their brains, each with distinctive cognitive ability.

I was also impressed by the range of Baxter's own mind, to be able to identify so fully with each of his characters. And I was reminded of how differently each of us views the world, quite evident in the contrast between Hugh's and Dorsey's perspectives.

Those reactions to First Light reminded me of my introduction to Lawrence Durrell's The Alexandria Quartet  (Justine, Balthazar, Mountolive, Clea). Still in my early twenties, this was the first time I learned from brilliant writing how different perspectives color individual interpretations of the world. I'd just finished reading Justine and turned to Balthazar, expecting a continuation of events described by Justine in the first novel. Instead, I was surprised to read about the same events Justine had described, only now from Balthazar's point of view.

Durrell brilliantly illustrated how our limited perspectives create completely different interpretations of the world. Now it's quite common to read novels in which the remarkable differences among characters' points of view underlie apparent reality. In a more contemporary example, Lauren Groff's Fates and Furies, the entire first half is from Lancelot (Lotto) Satterwhite's point of view, the second half from his wife Mathilde Yoder's. 

Every story has two sides. Every relationship has two perspectives.

Saturday, May 26, 2018

How to Die Happy: An Incentive to Excellence

Guest post by Diane E. Hoch: 

Here's an example of two paragraphs that justify Andrew Sean Greer's Less winning the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. While the novel is deemed comedic, one paragraph riffs on Shylock and they both not only deal with aging and loneliness, self-deprecation and all the other attendant emotions, but the language... no other writer compares a human being to a soft-shelled crab; nor does any other writer consider the crab's transparent carapace. Those lines (about Arthur Less, a failed writer) are ones you can die happy after having written:
Once, in his twenties, a poet he had been talking with extinguished her cigarette in a potted plant and said, "You're like a person without skin." A poet had said this. One who made her living flaying herself alive in public had said that he, tall and young and hopeful Arthur Less, was without skin. But it was true. "You need to get an edge," his old rival Carlos constantly told him in the old days, but Less had not known what that meant. To be mean? No, it meant to be protected, armored against the world, but can one 'get' an edge any more than one can 'get' a sense of humor? Or do you fake it, the way a humorless businessman memorizes jokes and is considered 'a riot,' leaving parties before he runs out of material?"
Whatever, it is, Less never learned it. By his forties, all he has managed to grow is a gentle sense of himself, akin to the transparent carapace of a soft-shelled crab. A mediocre review or careless slight can no longer harm him, but heartbreak, real true heartbreak, can pierce his thin hide and bring out the same shade of blood as ever. How can so many things become a bore by middle age -- philosophy, radicalism -- but heartbreak keep its sting?
*     *     * 
(The Pulitzer Prize is an annual award for achievements in newspaper, magazine and online journalism, literature, poetry, music, and photography in the United States, funded since 1917, as an incentive to excellence, from the will of publisher, passionate crusader, and visionary Joseph Pulitzer. List of Pulitzer Prizes for Fiction here.)

 *     *     *
From Bacopa Literary Review Editor in Chief Mary Bast:

As many talented writers have insisted, the best way to become a better writer is to read, read, read. Have you read every novel that's won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction? That might be a good place to start. During National Poetry Month 2013, I participated in "Pulitzer Remix," a project of The Found Poetry Review. Eighty-five poets from seven countries each wrote a poem a day from one of the 85 Pulitzer-Prize-winning works of fiction published to that date, and posted on the Pulitzer Remix website. Toward the River is a collection of my Pulitzer Remix poems from Michael Cunningham's The Hours.

Monday, May 21, 2018

The Light of the Flash: Short Stories and Shorter Stories

by Editor in Chief Mary Bast
The novelist ... does not convey the quality of human life, where contact is more like the flash of fireflies, in and out, now here, now there, in darkness. Short story writers see by the light of the flash; theirs is the art of the only thing we can be sure of - the present moment. Nadine Gordimer (quoted by Karen Lazar in "Writing by the flash of fireflies," 20 Nov 2013, Mail & Guardian)
Last year our short genre was Flash; this year's Short Story genre could also include something very short (at least 250 words), as long as it revolves around a central story core, with tight writing and a powerful voice.

Short Story Editor Kaye Linden has written, "You want the reader to get in and get out, the emotional impact of the words resonating beyond the words." In Chapter 2 of 35 Tips for Writing a Brilliant Flash Story (also included in a former blog post), she describes the House Theory: 
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 hear 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.
Here's an example from last year's Flash genre that meets the above criteria and would work just as well for this year's Short Story. Kaye Linden described Chelsea Ruxer's "Purple Light" as "lovely in its pale imagery and nostalgic mood, a small piece that suggests with power."

Purple Light (287 words)
by Chelsea Ruxer
The walls won't stay one color. The light changes them through the day, and the whites we started with in their fresh little squares have turned grey and green, and even brown up in the creases of the crown molding.
     I hold the paint card under the lamp, remember buying it the night we closed on our first house together. We ran our fingers along the bumpy edge of the shade, hundreds of triangles of colored glass I thought could go anywhere.
     I look around the room, hold the little white cards up to the mantle and imagine what this should be. The lamp brings out the blues in my sisters' bridesmaids dresses and Angie's graduation robe, dark greens from Ka'ala, pinks in our smiles there and in Angie's first picture, her skin blotchy against the crisp sheet of the hospital bed.
     The painters will come again in the morning. Maybe we'll change the trim this time, or the ceiling. They won't stay long enough for the light to change.
     I hear his phone ding in the kitchen just before a flash of turquoise illuminates the wall behind it. It's a color that doesn't go. The light brightens for a moment, a notification box on the screen. Then it disappears. It always does, if you just leave it alone.
     The sun through that window is blinding now, but the light will soften. I stay long enough to watch it turn from the slanted golds of late afternoon to sweet reds that get sucked into amber and then those few, funny moments of purple before a shadow falls across the table and the sky sinks into the deeper blues of the night, when the window just shows me.
 *     *    *
(Chelsea Ruxer is an MFA student at the Bluegrass Writers Studio. Her work has been published in 5x5, Adelaide, Flash Fiction Magazine, Jellyfish Review, Hermeneutic Chaos, Jersey Devil Press, Maudlin House, New Pop Lit, The Airgonaut, and others. One of her short pieces was nominated for 2016's Best of the Net)

Saturday, May 12, 2018

Prose Poetry: Powered by More Than One Source

By Editor in Chief Mary Bast
Prose poems are pure creation, the playful and daring edge of poetry. The writer provides powerful language and, above all, a truthful voice. Kaye Linden, 35 Tips for Writing Powerful Prose Poems
Prose poetry is a hybrid and, as with any hybrid, is powered by more than one source. It resembles prose in its lack of line breaks, but still is image-driven and with other poetic attributes such as meter, rhythm, rhyme, imagery, metaphors, sounds, and the powerful lyrical language we associate with poetry. This photo from page 17 of Bacopa Literary Review 2016 shows Tina Barry's "Two Shapes Mirrored," a doubly appropriate title for a prose poem.

Another example of  prose poetry we admire is Leslie Anne Mcilroy's "Big Bang" (Second Place Prize in Bacopa 2016's Poetry genre), described by Kaye Linden as "not only playful in form but edgy and courageous... clever handling of a highly creative and unique theme in which each planet of the solar system is personified" (the word Syzygy, from ancient Greek "yoked together," in the first of 12 stanzas in "Big Bang" refers to the alignment of sun, moon, earth, as in an eclipse):
1. Date with Syzygy
More than once, the sun and the moon doing things they've never, trading light for dark, all eclipse and aerial acrobatics. The stars, blinking with confusion, bumping into clouds in broad daylight, dawn and dusk dancing in drag, roosters crowing at twilight and me, here at the window, waiting for a universe.
A third example is Laura Madeline Wiseman's prose poem, "Under the Frankincense Trees," accepted by Kaye Linden because, "The profusion of imagery will offer a unique and unusual fantasy touch to Bacopa" (follow this link to read Wiseman's work).

We're drawing near to the May 31 deadline for submissions to this year's contest and already have some fabulous prose poetry, with room for a few more.

Don't be limited in your imagination. The above examples provide some idea of the range of work we publish in prose poetry, but as Kaye Linden indicates in 35 Tips for Writing Powerful Prose Poems, prose poems offer "a fantastic trampoline to bounce around creativity."

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Dive Beneath the Surface

by Editor in Chief Mary Bast
The world is satisfied with words. Few care to dive beneath the surface.
Blaise Pascal
First-class writers share an enviable knowledge of human nature through deeply drawn characters that illustrate not only what the world sees, but what lies beneath the surface and leads to a unique point of view.

Reading such work helps us all become better writers.  I've described elsewhere John Fowles' development of Sarah Woodruff in The French Lieutenant's Woman.

Below are steps to dive beneath the surface, as suggested by Larry Brooks in "Three Dimensions of Character Development," using Sarah Woodruff as an example:
  1. First, show your character's surface traits, quirks, and habits. Characters like Sarah Woodruff have a self-image as someone who's basically flawed, with a focus on suffering, emotional sensitivity and empathy, aesthetic sensibility, and a push-pull pattern in relationships (idealizing the lover, until reality sets in). Read the early pages of The French Lieutenant's Woman, for example, where Sarah's sobs are "creeping like blood through a bandage."
  2. Second, provide the back story and your character's inner demons: what prompts, explains, and motivates this character? Those like Sarah Woodruff nurture a "story" about not being sufficiently loved, and focus on what's missing or lacking. ("What has kept me alive is my shame, my knowing that I am truly not like other women.")
  3. Third, how would this personality's true character emerge through choices made when something important is at stake? By the end of The French Lieutenant's Woman, Sarah Woodruff is different from many women and unafraid to be so. An assistant and model for a well-known artist, she's developed equanimity -- she is unmarried and unconcerned about conventional attitudes toward her single state in the Victorian era.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Flash Fiction: Short and Tumultuous

By Editor in Chief Mary Bast
The lofty stance, the cosmic range, and the haunting music of Trakl's poetry now mark him, with Rilke, as perhaps the last great representative of what could be called the sublime tradition in German. Herbert Samuel Lindenberger, Georg Trakl
Our 2017 Flash Story Prize-winner Stephanie Emily Dickinson illuminates the short, tumultuous life of  Georg Trakl (1887-1914) in  Excerpts from the Trakl Diaries: A Collection of Tales (31: "Strangeress," 32: "The Snow," 33:"The Train," and 34: "Military Exercises" below). Her inspiration, George Trakl, protested "against the corrupt, fallen condition of humankind." To fully appreciate Dickinson's skill in creating new work while capturing the haunting music of Trakl's Expressionist poetry, click here for some of Trakl's poems, then read "Military Exercises," one of Dickinson's Collection of Tales available in Bacopa Literary Review 2017:
Military Exercises
1914. Heat has trapped itself. The light stays midmorning while we march through grass that rain has dampened. Linden trees around the parade ground throb with white scent. The grass blades lash themselves to my boots. My comrades chase not a ball but a soldier in pale goggles who kicks at a creature. The sky is the color of a giant spiked wheel breaking bodies as it rolls. The hardwoods hidden, spider webs embrace them. Back and forth we drill, a strophe that believes its steps have returned to the 4th grade where recess has begun. The bigger boys play. Each scrambles to pick up a stone or a stick. The animal that I took for a black cat is a rat, thin and elongated. Brownish black with a tail longer than its head and body, it blinks at the brightness with its poor eyes. My comrades are hoisting the culprit up and applying weights, they are setting the two forks, the prongs plunged into the flesh, against the neck. The tallest takes from his jacket pocket a wire contraption and baits it. I smell the sweetness of bacon. Red tort. Pig kidney flamed in rum. The rat tries to flee, pulling its strange cordy tail, skittering one way and then the other. The rat squeaks piteously and drags its little body. Nein, I say, drawing my service revolver. Nein. I will save the heretic. Give me the contraption, free the wire from the rat's neck. My comrades laugh, they clamor to swing the rat now that its blood is trickling through the air. Soon it will be August. War. The rat no longer claws the earth but kings it. Millions breed with the red slugs and frogs. Corpse rats. Millions of rat Robespierres to avenge, fewer rat Buddhas to forgive here under the lover's linden trees whose white perfume masks the executioner's sweat.

*    *    *
Stephanie Dickinson was raised on an Iowa farm, graduated with an MFA from the University of Oregon, and now lives in New York City. Along with Rob Cook, she publishes and edits the literary journal Skidrow Penthouse, now in its 10th year. She has received multiple distinguished story citations in the Pushcart Anthology, Best American Short Stories, and Best American Mysteries. And we've previously posted about her The Emily Fables and Heat: An Interview with Jean Seberg.

Sunday, April 1, 2018

On Storytelling

"Storytelling, you know, has a real function. The process of storytelling is itself a healing process, partly because you have someone there who is taking the time to tell you a story that has great meaning to them. They're taking the time to do this because your life could use some help, but they don't want to come over and just give advice. They want to give it to you in a form that becomes inseparable from your whole self. That's what stories do. Stories differ from advice in that, once you get them, they become a fabric of your whole soul. That is why they heal you."
Alice Walker, novelist, short story writer, poet, activist

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Diffusionist Writing: An Ungendered Genre

by Kaye Linden and Mary Bast

Bacopa Literary Review's 2018 editors have coined the term Diffusionism for writing that merges, blends, or removes the definitions from traditional genres. Next year we'll open this category and invite writers to mix up traditional genres, to write skewed or in shapes, with creativity, imagination, and clarity--meaningful writing with a powerful voice, offering readers a consistent evocation of justified emotion or imagery.

Examples of Diffusionist writing might include a creative nonfiction piece written in one long sentence, creative nonfiction or fiction written in lists, prose narratives with intermittent broken lines, or shaped prose that offers a concrete image or images on the page that support the writing's themes. Other examples might include a poem written backwards, or from right to left, bottom to top, or in a series of boxes.

As always, we'll seek great writing and originality, our main criterion for success the voice of the piece and its impact on readers.

Where did the term Diffusionism come from?

While creating a lecture on diffusion, Kaye--a Registered Nurse--considered the comparisons between physiological diffusion and writing across genres. In the simplest of chemical terms, "diffusion" is the movement of molecules from a higher to a lower concentration, a scattering of particles across borders. While researching further, Kaye came across the term applied to the diffusion of cultural ideas across geographic borders.

Mary added that the word's original meaning was from the Latin diffundere (pouring out), and in general refers to the spreading of something more widely. Of two particularly relevant definitions, one refers to "the action of spreading light evenly from its source to reduce glare and harsh shadows," the other to "intermingling of substances by the natural movement of their particles."

We apply this concept to the intermingling of genres and genders, driven not by low or high concentrations, but by natural movement from creative energies:
Reducing the "shadows," expanding the light.

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

How to Motivate Better Writing

Bacopa Literary Review Editor in Chief Mary Bast

How many times have you walked away from a writer's critique group feeling dismayed and demotivated? The kindest among us will be less heavy-handed with a new writer, but even the best writers are not so confident they can handle hearing their "baby" is ugly. No matter how positive our intentions, if people leave a critique feeling deflated, it's not working. And this happens far too often.

Remember your first spelling test? Did the teacher circle all the correct answers in red? No. We've been taught from an early age to focus on what's wrong. The best teachers and parents try to correct behavior in a loving way because they know it's hurtful to a child to be constantly criticized. But the operant word is still correct. When dealing with adults, our drive to address problems, set targets, and work to accomplish them has created a culture of problem-centered improvement, where feedback is focused on what's not working well.

By pointing out what needs to be corrected in others' work, we may unintentionally create the "Golem Effect," borrowed from Jewish folklore about a creature meant to protect Prague that instead destroyed the city. When a group engages the Golem Effect, efforts to improve writing will demolish motivation.

We can invite the "Pygmalion Effect" instead, where positive expectations influence performance positively. This approach was named after an ancient sculptor who fell in love with a female figure he'd created from ivory. When he kissed the statue, she came to life. Our goal in critique groups is to help each other become better writers, and our positive approach to critique is the "kiss" that brings each other's work to life.

This applies to all critiques, anywhere, all the time.

Critique Guidelines

Read the work carefully before writing comments.
  • get to know the author's voice and style
  • develop a general feel before noting specifics
  • approach the work on its own terms, not the way you would write it
Write comments in third person; address the work, not the author.

Call attention to punctuation/spelling only if certain errors predominate. Instead of offering a re-write or copy-edit, trust the author to learn from the comments and decide what to change, or not change.

Let the author know what's strong in the work. Though hearing what you "love" or think is "terrific" may feel good, those general comments don't improve someone's writing. Point out specific strengths, with examples, in several of these areas:
  • theme, form, structure
  • plot, setting, scene, suspense, conflict
  • point of view, character depth
  • diction, dialogue, exposition, narration, tense consistency
  • alliteration, assonance, consonance, cohesion
  • figures of speech, word choices, metaphors, similes, imagery
  • style, voice, rhyme, rhythm, pacing
  • line breaks, stanzas
Then offer A FEW specific and nonjudgmental suggestions to improve the work. Saying what's "wrong" or what needs "correcting" will tend to raise defenses. Instead, focus the author's attention on how the work could be better written. Think in terms of possibilities--ask yourself  "What would be the solution to this perceived problem?" For example:
  • Instead of "You've used this phrase too often," try "I see this phrase several times in this piece; it could have more impact if used only on page 4."
  • Instead of "This is too general," try "More concrete details here would increase the work's somber mood."
  • Instead of "This is a cliche," try "A fresher word would grab attention here, such as (example from author's work).
  • Instead of "This paragraph is confusing," try "This paragraph could show more clearly who is speaking."

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

The Short Story, Fifteen Hundred Words or Fewer

by Short Story Editor Kaye Linden

For this submission period, we are requesting stories of under fifteen hundred words. What am I looking for in the shorter submission? Here are some suggestions that will catch this editor's eye:

1. Make every word count. Examine the writing for excess adverbs and adjectives. For example, consider the following two sentences that say the same thing with different words:
"The bigger dog really likes the little dog.
"The Labrador plays tug-of-war with the chihuahua." 
2. Use active voice construction over a passive voice to employ clean, smooth writing and reading. For example:
"My article was published by Time Magazine."
"Time Magazine published my article."
3. Maintain balance and pacing. Sentence length, comma position and verb constructions will affect the overall rhythm or pacing of a piece of writing. Pay attention to each and how they sound when read aloud.

4. Story structure: stories demonstrate action, consequence and change via conflict. These elements give a story its structural arc. Otherwise, we are writing an anecdote or tale. Something must happen to someone or something. These elements apply to the short story and the very short story, whether plot or character driven, and even when under fifteen hundred words.

5. Keep point of view and tense consistent. Unless stating a truism, if you start the story in present tense, keep it there. If the story is from the narrator's point of view, stay in the narrator's point of view.

6. Dialogue works well in a short story but keep the "tags" to a minimum unless there are more than two people. Simple tags like "he said" or "she said" or "they said" for transgender stories, work better than "She screamed loudly." If the dialogue is short, one tag might be enough. For example:
She held his glance. "I thought you knew."
"I had no idea. When did it happen?"
"Last night. The tree fell on their bedroom."
He looked down at the floor. "I can't believe their bad luck."
7. Demonstrate through action. Instead of "She felt terrible," consider "She paced around the room, touching each of its four corners with trembling fingers."

8.Stories aren't just about entertainment. Writing is an art. Art offers the truth as the artist sees it. Significant truths are shared through short stories and the world is often made better because a writer has shared his or her world view.

9. You can break the rules in experimental work. As short story editor I am fine with someone breaking the above rules; however (yes, there is a caveat), be certain the narrator's voice shines through the narrative. I respond with excitement more to a writer's voice than to any other element.

10. Voice results from language and style choices. Excellence in writing relates in great part to the writer's voice.


What is Voice? by Kaye Linden, Writers Alliance of Gainesville Blog
35 Tips for Writing a Brilliant Flash Story, by Kaye Linden

Monday, February 19, 2018

Blazing Trails: Emotional Subtext

by Editor in Chief Mary Bast
All writers are familiar with the adage "show, don't tell," but showing isn't necessarily based on action. "... a state of being can be presented without emotions and, despite that, cause us to feel quite a bit," says Donald Maass in The Emotional Craft of Fiction.

In Bacopa Literary Review 2017's Fiction Prize winning story Ignis Fatuus, and More, at Eleven, Chad W. Lutz alludes to a deeper emotional subtext, starting with the title itself: Ignis fatuus means something deluding or misleading.

The overt text presents Joan Conte, morning anchor at Fox19 News Now, reporting that Dubai's 2,716.5 ft. tall Burj Khalifa has appeared overnight at Linn Street and Sycamore in Downtown Cincinnati.

This fantastic event provides a framework for the author's subtext  illuminating the boundaries of a white-male-privileged social system. For example, after five years of promises, anchor Conte has finally been given time that morning to present her deeply researched feature on race relations. The station's money-hungry executives now want to displace her feature with ongoing coverage of the Burj Khalifa. Lead member of "The Brass," James McAvel, tells her condescendingly, "It's excellent journalism, just not the story that needs to be told right now," then not-so-subtly threatens the loss of Conte's job if she doesn't agree: "Going through a divorce can be tough, Miss Conte, especially when there are kids involved."

More subtle is the subtext of systemic discrimination against Abby, the twenty-something, gender-neutral, bespectacled intern whose introduction to Joan Conte includes the explanation "My pronouns are They/Them/Their."

With Lutz's story, Bacopa Literary Review has for the first time published work with "they" as a gender-fluid pronoun. We note The Associated Press Stylebook, "arguably the foremost arbiter of grammar and word choice in journalism, has added an entry for 'they' as a singular, gender-neutral pronoun in its latest edition."

According to Steph Shangraw in LGBT Fiction, the challenge of gender-neutral pronouns "creates a serious dilemma for an author of narrative fiction who wants to be inclusive and respectful," because readers jolted out of the flow will have more trouble losing themselves in the story. Yet, it's also the author's job "to blaze trails and set examples... That's the power and responsibility that come with storytelling."

So how does a writer introduce gender-neutral pronouns in a way that doesn't jolt readers out of the flow? The Associated Press Stylebook suggests "If they/them/their use is essential, explain in the text that the person prefers a gender-neutral pronoun." This is what Lutz has done in Abby's introduction to Joan Conte. In spite of that clarity, some readers will be confused by the pronouns that follow:
[Abby] ... waited for a reaction, any reaction; waited and waited and waited and then... thinking that both the woman on stage in front of them and the reasons they'd deluded themselves to coming back for another day of this going-nowhere internship, well, they were both f-----d."  
Not only is it the responsibility of authors to blaze trails, it's our responsibility as educated readers to develop enough flexibility to accommodate gender-fluid writing.

*    *    *
Author Chad W. Lutz also identifies as they/them/their. Currently enrolled at Mills College in Oakland, California, and working toward an MFA in Creative Writing (Fiction), their publications include The Chaos Journal, Peeking Cat Poetry Magazine, Fish Food, Gravel, Jellyfish Whispers, Diverse Voices Quarterly, Jazz Cigarette, and Route 7 Review.

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

To Be Quietly Mad

By Editor in Chief Mary Bast

Paddy Reid
It's the rare person who's immune to a well-told Irish story, and many of us have been trained to expect the quality of voice found in Frank McCourt's Angela's Ashes.

Creative Nonfiction Editor Susie Baxter found this voice immediately in Paddy Reid's work. To know this author, however, is to go far beyond his ability as a writer and storyteller.

A passionate advocate for causes he believes in, a community worker who counsels and teaches literacy and memoir writing in the inner city of Dublin, Reid made it clear from the beginning that if he won a money award for his contribution to Bacopa Literary Review, that award should be distributed locally to people in need.

As the son of a so-called "deserter" who grew up an outcast in Ireland, this author's particular crusade has been to show the effects of Irish communities shunning their men who joined the British army to fight Germany in World War II, while the Irish army stayed neutral. Reid's father and others like him could not find work after the war and struggled to feed their families. Eventually these men were fully pardoned and their unfair, unwarranted treatment deplored, but not until after his father's death.

Reid's story, "Starvation," awarded Honorable Mention in our 2017 collection, begins with a quote that captures the quality of life for Rosie Flanagan, whose husband Kevin has been blacklisted for years by Irish employers and his British Army pension recently cut off:
You can be mad without screaming or ranting or raving. You can be quietly mad. Mad without banging your head off the wall. You can be sitting in a room, listening to the doctor, nodding your head when you're supposed to.
Rosie stood in the dim hallway, waiting her turn to see the doctor. She hated the old Portside Dispensary, with its cold rooms and heavy smells... The black mold growing in the corner...   
     I'm afraid I'll hurt the children.
     She wanted to say it again, but had caught herself in time. If the doctor lost patience with her he could have her committed to the madhouse. It had been done before to women in the docklands who suffered with their nerves. Don't give him any excuse to put you away, Rosie... Three months ago, she had stood before a rubbish chute on the top balcony of Liberty Row. Her, just staring at the tip handle for ages, holding the sleeping baby to her chest with one arm. She jerked open the handle. From here it would fall forty feet into a collection area. Just a few seconds and it would be over. She leaned forward to drop it down the sloping chute. As she did so, the smell of rotten fish hit her like a physical blow.
     No. She pulled back, gripping the child tightly....
This is real, this is riveting, and you won't want to miss the rest of Rosie Flanagan's story in Bacopa Literary Review 2017.
 *     *     *
Paddy Reid lived in the US for more than a decade and published memoir and short stories in literary journals such as Connecticut Review, Sou'wester, and Primavera. He received the Anton Chekhov Award for Short Story from The Crescent Review in 1996, and won First Prize in  Factual Memories in the competition and collection, Original Writing from Ireland's Own.

Saturday, January 27, 2018

Call Me Sisyphus: A Dream of Creative Nonfiction

by Editor in Chief Mary Bast

We've celebrated the unique talent of Charlotte M. Porter before, applauding her imaginative use of language in writing that "sweeps enthusiastically through poetry, creative nonfiction, flash fiction, fiction," with examples from her poetry and fiction.

In this post we bring you Porter's Flash Story Honorable Mention for a creative nonfiction piece that will rearrange your ideas about dreams. Notice Porter's unique voice and poetic near-rhymes in the first paragraphs of "Terminal Trance":
Disguised as moderns, poets Homer and Dante duped me with a junket to the Netherworld, an alumni reunion in Hades. I arrive, revive, await Homer in hip hop, Dante in high tops. What a gas! But no. My escorts are grim, thin as shadows.
One is my handsome brother Michael. The other, a former beau always late, a pretty fellow I'll call JoJo. Both lacking likeness to album photos seem taller in black manteaux, their eyes dull cupped candles of souls departed.
In dark dress, too, mine with hood, I lug two drab duffel bags, which a person my size has to slide on well-traveled floors.
Sorry, camp gear, says Michael, younger brother lost to cancer, too tired to lift--he the college batboy with metal plates in his arm, magnets for true North, our family joke, now rusty under skin so grey.
Through her dream travels, she loses and finds and loses her brother:
Call me Sisyphus, but you try pushing duffels across raft of air-filled mattresses. I falter, and Michael disappears. Has JoJo pulled him between creases of my visual field?
Was JoJo always after Michael, not me?
Through sheer will, I bring my brother back, for an instant in existence. His black coat stands grand against the milling crowd. I blink. He's gone--too big for me to see. Or too fleet like river flux or flame on silk.
                                                   Jojo and his yoyo coins evaporate. He, always beyond my ilk, the darling thief dream released through ivory and horn to steal sweet kisses. If this is closure, must I wake?
In what has become an elegy to her brother, our clever prize winner uses travel gear as a telling metaphor in her final paragraph:
A cur guards Hades, but my trusty dogs fail to keep the dead in place as I tarry on the Styx, ferry my stone-cold brother without toll for those duffels--his luggage, my baggage.
 *      *      *

For more about flash nonfiction:
Our own Kaye Linden, author of 35 Tips for Writing A Brilliant Flash Story, describes what she's looking for in Bacopa Literary Review 2018's Short Story genre, with an example of her own flash memoir in "How Can a Mother?"
Beth Ann Fennelly offers suggestions for crafting excellent flash nonfiction in "Making much of the moment," suggesting the best micro-memoir combines "the extreme abbreviation of poetry, the narrative tension of fiction, and the truth-telling of creative nonfiction. . . ." As examples Fennelly cites Anne Carson's Short Talks, J. Robert Lennon's Pieces for the Left Hand, Sarah Manguso's 300 Arguments, and James Richardson's Vectors

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Life's Unexpected Bits of Sweetness

by Editor in Chief Mary Bast

Anyone who's been a long-time caregiver has experienced the mixed emotions inherent in that role. Having cared for my mother the final sixteen years of her long life, I know the quiet tug between strength and fatigue, compassion and anger, willingness and rebellion. So it was my personal and professional pleasure to support Editor Susie H. Baxter's 2017 Creative Nonfiction Prize award to Raphel Helena Kosek for Caregiver's Journal: How to Survive, or Not.

Kosek wrote so movingly, in fact, we also nominated her piece for a Pushcart Prize.

Described by the author as "one of the most honest and heartfelt pieces I've ever written," Kosek's three-part essay begins, "The Caregiver Addresses Herself at a Distance:"
The night path so often covered between your mother's house and yours falls like reprieve, like freedom, when you are able to leave her--pajamaed and ready for bed--return to your own world. . . Never in all your sixty-one years have you counted the air so sweetly. . . the next step, next breath, next page, word, desire, longing, gratitude--a swell rising like the tide, sand unresisting sweeping you along the sea of night where you are washed from your mother's bitterness. . . .  
Then "Taking Stock:"
. . . my mother slowly heading towards immobility next door in her house where the rituals of dressing and undressing, mollifying and tolerating, are endlessly repeated. . . No happy burden here. Age knocking at my door, I am still the rebellious teenager inside questioning, how did this happen to me? I want to take drugs, sleep too long, head into the woods. I don't do any of that. . . I am a monk in my skin. . . Aware of life's unexpected bits of sweetness, I hoard them like jewels. . . .
And in the final section, "Barking Dog in the Night:"
Stranded on the island of night, I try to navigate to the next minute, next moment. A neighbor's dog is barking but without urgency. . . He has been left out or let outside. . . My husband, more tired than I, has gone to bed. . . Now the dog and I are left to contemplate the vast universe that steams and dreams around us. . . If I try hard enough, I might arrive at some profound thought, but like the dog, feel no urgency to do so. Restless, I send some tentative feelers out--my bark to verify my existence. . . .
You'll find Kosek's eloquent, prize-winning piece in its entirety 

For more about Raphael Helena Kosek:
Q & A with Eastern Iowa Review
Showcased Writer at Silk Road Review
Rough Grace (poems), 2014 Winner, Concrete Wolf Chapbook Competition

Saturday, November 18, 2017

"Spirit Will Never Be Quelled" -- 2017 Pushcart Nominations:

The Pushcart Prize: Best of the Small Presses Series, published every year since 1976, is the most honored literary project in America. 
"How can this series. . . staffed by hundreds of unpaid volunteers across the country, have survived and thrived for decades?" Because "Spirit will never be quelled, certainly not by big bucks and bluster." And indeed it's true. Bacopa Literary Review 2017's unpaid volunteer editors have thrived on this year's spirited entries and we're proud to announce our Pushcart nominations:

Stephanie Emily Dickinson, "Excerpts from the Trakl Diaries"

Dickinson lives in New York City. Her novel Half Girl and novella Lust Series are published by Spuyten Duyvil, as is her Love Highway, based on the 2006 Jennifer Moore murder. Her other books include Port Authority Orchids, Heat: An Interview with Jean Seberg, and the recently released collection, The Emily Fables. 

Claire Scott, "A Mote of Dust"

An award-winning poet and previous Pushcart Prize nominee, Scott's work has appeared in Atlanta Review, Bellevue Literary Review, Enizagam, Causeway Lit, and The Healing Muse, among others. She is the author of Waiting to be Called.
Raphael Helena Kosek,"Caregiver's Journal: How to Survive, or Not"

Kosek's work has appeared in many journals and magazines including Big Muddy Poetry East, The Chattahoochee Review, Catamaran, Still Point Arts Quarterly, and Southern Humanities Review. Her chapbook, Rough Grace, won the 2014 Concrete Wolf Chapbook Competition and one of her essays tied for first place in the 2016 Eastern Iowa Review Lyric Essay Contest. She teaches American Lit and Creative Writing at Marist College and Dutchess Community College.

Adrian S. Potter, "This is Not a Protest Poem"
Potter writes poetry and short fiction. He is the author of the fiction chapbook Survival Notes (Červená Barva Press, 2008) and winner of the 2010 Southern Illinois Writers Guild Poetry Contest. Some publication credits include North American Review, Obsidian, and Kansas City Voices. He posts, sometimes, on his blog.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Writing Memoir -- Where to Begin? Where to Stop?

by Creative Nonfiction Editor Susie H. Baxter

New writers often come to my classes on "writing memoir" wondering where to begin, how much to tell, and how to structure a memoir. "Don't start at the beginning," I tell them, since you cannot remember that day." There are, of course, exceptions to every rule: if one's mother died during childbirth, for example. Begin instead with a person or experience that had a significant impact on your life. Details about one's birth can be worked in later.

I had the same problems when I started my own memoir. I thought I would focus on my rural childhood (I grew up on a tobacco farm in North Florida). I could hardly wait to get away from the place and thought I would take the story up to the day I escaped as a bride.

In the end, my memoir does focus on my rural childhood. It begins in the dead of night when I was three years old (excerpt from Pumping Sunshine: A Memoir of My Rural Childhood):
    "Wake up girls! Get outta bed!" Daddy yelled. Awakened from a nightmare, my half-awake eyes searched the cold, dark room. Dim moonlight shining through the bare windows helped me make out Daddy's flailing silhouette as he yanked quilts off my sisters and me. He grabbed my arm as I scrambled, trying to climb over Patsy and Anetha and off the cot we sisters shared. In my three years of life, I'd never been more scared. My heart pounded.
     That night had started out like any other.

     In the kitchen after supper, soapy water dripped from Mama's fingertips into the chipped enamel dishpan as she lifted her arm to brush loose strands of permed dark hair off her forehead. She couldn't stand hair in her face. Bangs like Patsy had would have annoyed Mama no end. Curls like mine that dangled to my eyes? Pure torture for Mama.
     "C.G.," Mama called to Daddy. "How 'bout bringing in a washtub so the girls can take their baths by the fire?"
     Through the kitchen doorway, I had a clear view of Daddy, sitting in a straight-backed chair by the hearth. Logs blazed. Daddy was studying a lesson in his Sunday school book that lay atop his open Bible. Expecting him to look up and answer Mama any second, I stared at the crown of his head. His hair was nearly as dark as Mama's except when the sun or firelight hit it just right. Then, you could see sparkles of auburn. His barber clipped it short, as if Daddy still trained with the Florida National Guard. With his hair only an inch long, he didn't need to plaster it down with Brylcreem the way most men at church did theirs. Daddy didn't even need to comb his. You couldn't tell if he did or didn't.

     Daddy had been talking about adding a kitchen sink and pipes that would bring well water into the house and take it out again -- "indoor plumbing," he called it. Our grandparents, who lived just up the road, had all that in their new house, built in 1944, the year I was born. They even had an indoor toilet!
My childhood memoir does not, however, extend to the day I became a bride. I wrote the stories out of sequence -- almost anything that came to mind. Deciding later what to include, what to leave out, and when to stop the memoir were my big challenges.

Eventually, the stories themselves dictated where the end should be, making me stop before I had even met the man I would marry. So, I say to those beginning a memoir, just keep writing your stories; the story itself will help you figure it out.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

A Mouthpiece to the Sacred

by Editor in Chief Mary Bast 
The idea of human memory as a folded or patchwork process is familiar to those who read and write braided essays . . . the "threads" combine thematically to form a more complete and pliable piece of nonfiction . . . in handfuls that don't abide by chronological time. Sarah Minor, "What Quilting and Embroidery Can Teach Us About Narrative Form, Literary Hub, 9/22/17.
The best memoir has a clear focus, theme, and takeaway -- something heartfelt, universal, and true. But if recollections are forced to be linear and sequential, there's a risk of oversimplifying the complicated tapestry of life. And this is true not only of nonfiction. Contemporary novels have also left the sequential story structure behind, some by alternating points in time, some by alternating chapters by different characters, the strands then formally braided or at least implied. One fine example is Barbara Kingsolver's The Poisonwood Bible, a tapestry woven from five voices: Orleanna, Leah, Ruth May, Rachel, and Adah.

Writing about this technique in creative nonfiction, Brenda Miller suggests braiding isn't simply a mosaic with fragmented and juxtaposed pieces:
. . . it has more of a sense of weaving about it, of interruption and continuation, like the braiding of bread . . . What I'm hoping is that by the eating of this bread together we begin to respond to a hunger unsatisfied by everyday food, unvoiced in everyday language. We'll begin to formulate a few separate strands; we'll mull them over, roll them in our hands, and bring them together in a pattern that acts as a mouthpiece to the sacred. "A Braided Heart: Shaping the Lyric Essay," pp. 14-24, Writing Creative Nonfiction, Carolyn Forché and Philip Gerard (Eds)
Its break from traditional sequencing is one of the many attractions of Emily Hipchen's memoir, Coming Apart Together: Fragments from an Adoption. Even her title evokes an image of parting and reweaving. Readers will admire her writerly brilliance and identify with her experience even if not an adoptive parent or adopted child. One needn't have had a wild and crazy childhood in Texas to fall in love with Mary Karr's The Liar's Club or been a poverty-stricken boy in Ireland to be fascinated by Frank McCourt's Angela's Ashes.

The following excerpts from Hipchen's memoir show what Brenda Miller describes in "A Braided Heart" as ". . . separate parts intersecting, creating the illusion of wholeness, but with the oh-so-pleasurable texture of separation."

An early strand in the book is from the author's near present:
Fifteen days ago came the call . . . What I hear is a woman's voice. I immediately think "New York." I immediately think "foreign, unknown, stranger," and tune out all but anything that might be important. The timbre of the voice is deep, it has a girlishness to it though, an under-giggle of helium, so I think "young" . . ." Your father my husband and I would like to talk to you. Will you call us? . . . "We love you very much." There are beeps almost as meaningful as what she says, a hiss of tape. Who loves me? Who. I replay and replay, working the pieces together.
Soon we read a strand from her imagined infant self, only six months after her birth:
Six months ago I was born. Six months ago I was named Mary Beth Delany by the woman who labored thirty-six hours in darkness and daylight to have me and then let me go . . . She set her face into the winter light, moved her left leg, her right leg, and found that she was walking . . .  and from the arms of a nun I stretched out my sloppy fists and smiled toothlessly, grinned and grinned and grinned as I did for every stranger, since everyone was a stranger . . . and they took me into their family, and began calling me . . . Emily. Their daughter.
Then we're back to a near-present strand:
On one of the first days I have contact with Anna and Joe, my father explains about sports . . . He unwraps his arm and stretches it across the table as if the limb were my gift . . . And says, "These are pitchers' arms." And says, "These are your arms." They are, emphatically.
Another strand from the past, when the author was in elementary school:
In fourth grade was the Mendel project. Genetics. Monks and sweet peas. The project consisted of this: a worksheet on which each student was to record all the ways in which he or she resembled his or her parents . . . I told the truth: I was adopted . . . Thus verified, I was given something else to do. I sat all week alone . . . dreaming of my birth-mother coming to gather me . . . .
And a strand that holds both present and past:
I can remember being a child and dreaming my imagined mother alive . . . a better mother than mine, not so short-tempered, not so difficult to understand, not so other-than-me . . . But this is what I struggle with now, here, since it seems paradoxical, since it violates some substratum of feeling I can't yet excavate: for all the trouble I've had and caused, for all that it's taken me to get here, to be thirty-five years old, to be what I am, I can't wish the undoing of it, of any of it. To do so would unmake me.
A later strand frames an internal braiding of the author's own story with that of her newly discovered Aunt Elizabeth:
I am the daughter Anna's sister Elizabeth never had . . . I tell her, "It is difficult, you know, seeing my face walking around everywhere else. After all these years of not knowing . . . [Joe] says Aunt Beth ran away from her family when she was eighteen. . . [her story] becomes the companion piece to my own leaving, it has motives I comprehend . . . the powerful sense of having some control over one's own destiny. . . Our stories overlap and braid . . like mine, her father was violent and controlling. . .
As we near the end, Hipchen reflects on the various parts of her braid:
I wonder, as I sit writing this, this the story of one event's impact, how much of my understanding of what happens to me and to everyone else is really more just our seeing, through the dimness in which we sit, the shadowy outlines of things passing by rolled-up windows, too fast really to be more than blurs, too unfamiliar to be anything but what we imagine them to be? 
Bit by bit, she weaves all together, admitting that some of her braided work must be imagined:
. . . The woman who gave birth to me, the man who helped make me, and the five children they had after me became names and faces to me, exited my unconscious and became incarnate . . . The struggle is in telling a true story when there are so many different kinds of truth, so many different angles, voices, possibilities, nothing linear, nothing really straight and tellable . . . How impossible it all is . . . But you know that's the thing about telling a true story, I think. Usually, to tell it at all sensibly, actually say what's true, you have to line up the bits and pieces you can just about see distinctly and imagine the rest.
Finally, I could find no better mouthpiece to the sacred in this compelling memoir than Emily Hipchen's own words:
We are all children looking for our lost parents. Or lost parents, looking for our children.

". . . Read this book if you want to understand and experience the tangled knot of love, anger, self-doubt, and courage at the heart of adoption memoirs. . . ." ~ Rebecca Hogan, Editor of a/b: Auto/Biography Studies and Professor of English and Women's Studies, University of Wisconsin-Whitewater

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Bacopa Literary Review 2017: From the Editor

The intersection of arts and political activism are two fields defined by a shared focus of creating engagement that shifts boundaries, changes relationships and creates new paradigms... a space where valuable insight can be found through reflection and sharing.
~ Art and Politics, The Power of Creativity and Activism Across the Globe," Annette Blum, Huffington Post, THE BLOG, 03/21/2016.

We live in an age of environmental concerns, political dissent, divisiveness, war, discrimination, and suffering made personal by instant internet access. No wonder poets, writers, and artists seek meaning and provide inspiration through their creative efforts. Certainly our 2017 contributors have rendered art that will bring readers inside life's deepest truths.

Delving first into the deeper blues, whether reading of the unknown lost, the well-known, or those known only to our writers--fathers, mothers, siblings, children, friends--you'll wonder if your heart's response is more joy or sorrow or a mix of both. Omit the sparrow and the thought / of bird remains. . . So it is with loss, writes Sally Zakariya. (Click here and scroll down to "Up From the Tropics" to see "Theory of Omission," from which these lines are borrowed.)

Exploring life's unexpected bits of sweetness, we admire the wild bite of stars, hug a baby close against fears of an unknown future, heal addiction in our dreams, recall as children how we were good help even though we also peed in the family pool, remember vividly such characters as Stephanie Dickinson's Velma, whose voice was a laughing gull's.

We still believe in love, that feeling every time you dazzle in the shine of someone new, being touched as if our scars are beautiful, even when love is like a blade, when we fear we might drown, when we pay a fine, when we ponder ways to lose a guy/girl. And we hope, with Tamara Adelman, that being alone with a lover in nature will provide some reassurances.

Our contributors, at liberty to sink caution, bemoan news that's about what sells, lying to ourselves while others wake up to violent explosions. They grieve coming-out children who hear echoes of "abomination," challenge the message for young girls to be patient and pretty and sending boys to war who would rather be foraging for berries. Then a reprieve in "The Soloist" by Andrew Brown: What would divide us meets in her radiant throat.

These writers and poets are concerned about earth's well-being, the only home you ever knew. In a world that's ending, just once more, as though any generation could avoid its end by consuming the next, mothers carry their children through waist-high water, streets full of soda cans and road signs, trees uprooted like a jumble of giant pick-up sticks. Still, some believe this is only a test. We are lulled by the blue rush of the surf and we nail old shoes in trees for homeless birds to live in. If anyone felt desire, Clif Mason assures us, the wind would blow again.

The final section features work where buzzing of bumblebees is the soundtrack, their honey a sovereign remedy, a muffle-hush falling when mountains breathe mist. While driving in boiling turnpike traffic we see: Suddenly--sheep!  We feel with each bloom its thin green legs, see hummingbirds careen in plein air, watch the powdery glitter of snow. We believe, with Jim Johnston, that the seeds of courage are planted in darkness, and from there they must grow. . . if we do not want to call the darkness home.

May the artful reflections of contributors to Bacopa Literary Review 2017 bring you valuable insights in our tumultuous times.

Editor in Chief
Bacopa Literary Review

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Against the Storm: We Are Dazzled by Love

by Editor in Chief Mary Bast
The question of whether climate change "caused" any particular weather event is the wrong one; instead, we must probe how climate change alters extreme weather. Aside from the warming atmosphere, rising sea levels and surface ocean warming have likely contributed to the impact of both Irma and Harvey. Dann Mitchell, NERC Research Fellow at the University of Bristol's Cabot Institute.
Here in Gainesville, Florida, as we prepare for the impact of Irma, it's difficult to concentrate on anything. And yet it seems the perfect time to reiterate our theme of the intersection of art and activism, time to remember that art "mirrors the aesthetic standard of the day and also provides a window into the historic context of the time." A vital part of that context is the element of love, stories of human connection, of friendship, helping, and heroism amidst the storms.

I had hurt my back carrying bags of canned food in from the car and was dreading bringing in everything from the patio; at that moment there was a knock on the door and a member of our maintenance team brought in everything for me. One of my friends was shopping for plywood to board up the window in her 95-year-old mother's room when she noticed two young men who live near her; they returned with her and helped her board up the window. I read about a woman who needed a generator for her father's oxygen machine in case their power fails; the man who had just picked up the last generator gave her his, and she fell into his arms, weeping.

We at Bacopa Literary Review believe in love, we love Ellaraine Lockie's poem "In the Friendship Lab," featured in our 2017 issue, and we invite you to remember the power of love, "every time you dazzle in the shine of someone new . . .
If it overflows, be like the flower it waters
when you meet someone worth unfolding for . . ."

Sunday, August 27, 2017

The Emperor Has No Clothes

by Editor in Chief Mary Bast
We may feel the need to be that voice crying out. . . "The emperor has no clothes!" Most of us will not be spearheading protest marches. . . masterminding boycotts. . . or leading the charge against oil exploitation. But we do what we can. We write. (Mary Pipher, PhD, Writing to Change the World, pp. 29-30)
You remember the Hans Christian Andersen story, "The Emperor's New Clothes," a cautionary tale about the danger of believing what's not real: Caring only about his appearance in the finest clothes, this Emperor's vanity led him to believe a couple of swindlers who told him they could weave clothes in which he'd be invisible to those unfit for office or unusually stupid. He thought he'd be able to determine who in his empire was unfit.

Of course, neither he nor anyone else could see the clothes but all were unwilling to admit they could be unfit or stupid. Finally, as he rode through town a little child said, "But he hasn't got anything on!" Only then would others acknowledge the reality.

This tale signifies the importance of speaking the truth when we see it, no matter what the social pressures. And nothing is more powerful than communicating at a symbolic level. When we look at our planet's increasingly failing capacity to support us, for example, we're appalled to note how many people still insist they're seeing the emperor's fine new clothes. How can writers and poets convince others of the naked truth in time to make a difference?

Perhaps by transporting readers into a starkly imagined future in earth's "silent periphery / on one of the cooler planets / far removed from walls and barbed wire / crosshatches of lies and alternative facts . . ." (from Poetry First Prize winner Claire Scott's "A Mote of Dust" in Bacopa 2017).

More about the intersection of art and activism to follow.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

This Poem is Not a Political Protest, or is it?

by Editor in Chief Mary Bast
If you are a person who truly cares about the environment or politics or equality in matters of race or gender . . . these concerns will naturally emerge in your poems. Your only job is to follow your instinctive, personal, idiosyncratic sense . . . and to see what emerges . . . "What Poetry Can Teach Us About Power: Political Poems Use Language in a Way Distinct From Rhetoric." Matthew Zapruder, Literary Hub,  August 16, 2017
The article above points out the danger when poets try to consciously bend their work to a political message. The author quotes Keats: "We hate poetry that has a palpable design on us." Instead, the most powerful poems carry a political message by re-enlivening and reactivating language in a way that invites attention and raises awareness.

Such is the power of Adrian S. Potter's "This is Not a Protest Poem," Bacopa Literary Review 2017's Poetry Honorable Mention. Poetry Editor J.N. Fishhawk and I loved this poem from the title alone, knowing Potter would reactivate the meaning of "this is NOT."  Instead readers are simply invited to watch . . .
a grown man shooting baskets
at a deserted playground
under partly sunny skies.
"This poem is not a metaphor," the poet assures us, "not code / for some political agenda," It's "not an allegory / about activists and antagonists." Yet readers will not be able to forget this "quiet guy practicing / shoulder fakes, pivots, and drop steps . . ."

More about the intersection of art and activism to follow.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

From The Dark Side

by Editor in Chief Mary Bast
The intersection of arts and political activism are two fields defined by a shared focus of creating engagement that shifts boundaries, changes relationships and creates new paradigms . . . "Art and Politics, The Power of Creativity and Activism Across the Globe," Annette Blum, Huffington Post, THE BLOG, 03/21/2016.
It's intriguing to ponder how art itself can take an activist stance, rally followers, change minds, shift people into new ways of thinking. That's the theme you'll find in this year's Bacopa Literary Review, now available at

It's immediately obvious that persuasive writing can influence thinking through rational means. We can also give voice to the voiceless, instigating empathy and compassion from readers by providing an inside view of experiences completely different from our own. Even more subtly, our metaphors can act quietly below the level of rationality's conscious defenses.

The metaphor of "dark matter," for example, describes all we cannot see, known only through astrophysicists' math. We writers can support more obvious activism by planting our metaphors outside the spotlight, part of the dark matter of raising consciousness.

This is exactly where you'll be left after reading our concluding piece, Jim Johnston's "Dark Water, Silent Grace." Ostensibly about a boy's experience in the lake at camp, persuaded by older boys to take a frightening dive into murky waters, the subtle undercurrent of this piece will tow readers to Johnston's deeper message, "how the seeds of courage are planted in darkness."

Bacopa Literary Review 2017 now available at

More about the intersection of art and activism to follow.