Bacopa Literary Review

Writers Alliance of Gainesville's international journal in its 8th year
This blog cited among Top Literary Blogs for Writers and Publishing Agents

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

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Cleave Poetry

By Editor in Chief Mary Bast

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

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

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

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

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Misremembering Chekhov

by Editor in Chief Mary Bast

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Bain de Sang

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

Bain de Sang / Bloodshed
-- In memory of the victims in Paris of November 13, 2015 -- 
  
                            Bain de sang
                                        1
la fatigue
on s'assied
les étoiles dans l'eau
le silence renversé
 on trinque
un verre à la main
mais on ne sait plus à quoi
autour d'une terrasse
           jonchée de cadavres
le sol peint en rouge
entonnoir de demain
un corps coupé en deux
la tête dans les nuages
          et les pieds sur la terre
et ce silence étrange qui a cousu nos lèvres
                 à la paume de nos mains

                                     2
panoplies de nos corps
la nuit taillée
on dresse d'un coup le regard
nuage
cadavre éventré
 où fleurissent des mains
aux balcons des étoiles se posent les oiseaux
rien à dire
un pas de trop
         pour aller nulle part
au bout de cette course nous tombons en
                                                       poussière
citadelles sans créneaux       

           Bloodshed
 
                       1
fatigue
we sit down
stars in the water
silence toppled down
  we toast
a glass in the hand
but we don't know to what
around the terrace
    covered with bodies
the ground painted in red
funnel of tomorrow
a body cut in half
the head in the clouds
           and the feet on the earth
and this odd silence which has sewed our lips
                    to the palm of our hands

                             2
outfit of our bodies
the night cut out
we raise our eyes suddenly
a cloud
a gutted corpse
  where hands are blooming
 birds landing on the balconies of the stars
nothing to say
one step too much
           to get to nowhere
at the end of this race we fall into
                                                        the dust
castles without crenels

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

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Flash is No Longer Fiction. . .

By Flash Story Editor Kaye Linden

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

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

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

See also: "How Can a Mother?"

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

Friday, March 17, 2017

J.N. Fishhawk: Poet, Writer, Agitator

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fiction: A Compelling Narrative

by Editor-in-Chief Mary Bast

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

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

Leave a Trace of a Time and a Place

by Creative Nonfiction Editor Susie Baxter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Audacious Ekphrasis

by Bacopa Editor in Chief Mary Bast

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

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

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

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

on intricate
feathered web
of covert

sheath
shaft
veins

warm-blooded
she breathes faster
learns to soar

ignores
the admonition
do not fly too high


her efforts full
of sky
of wind

her breasts
still flecked with honey
dripped from wings' wax

heavy with her father's
architecture
heavier than water

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

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



Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Good, Sometimes Great Writers

by Bacopa Literary Review Fiction Editor U.R. Bowie 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Describing a Scene

by Bacopa Literary Review Fiction Editor U.R. Bowie 

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

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

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

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

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

 

Friday, March 10, 2017

Everything is a Dream

by Bacopa Literary Review Fiction Editor U.R. Bowie 

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

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

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Important and Unimportant

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, March 6, 2017

The Contagion of Rhythm and Pacing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Reading Between the Lines

by Editor in Chief Mary Bast

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

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


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

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

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Translating the Signs in Dragon Tongue

by Editor in Chief Mary Bast

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

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

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

Sections II and III are in part responses to "Heart of the Dragon" and "Frankincense Tree" by Beth Moon.  Excerpts: 
2.
After I married you, I put my troll dolls inside our holiday boxes, their plastic bodies among chipped bulbs, DIY ornaments, and mini-stockings for candy canes. Some of the trolls were scuffed. Some were gouged by teeth. Most had hair that teased into bright points . . . I search and search, but can't find the troll dolls. I put the mugs back, the tumblers, the dead fairy lights. I fold the Santa hats and stack the reindeer antlers. I listen for the skeet, unsure what you're hitting. Sometimes it sounds like screaming. I close the closet door.

3.
Island of the Dragon's Blood, Beth Moon
When we arrive in this land of the Dragon, we don't know the trees, the burn of such heat, a place of no water. . . . Do not climb, you say, translating the signs in dragon tongue . . . . Trolls pace in circles, arms above their heads swaying. Some wear chains. Some groan . . . . I descend the trail, crouching in the shade. I remove the vials. I hammer in the spile to catch what will rise . . . . Raptors, you say and, We can't camp here. I watch the birds, their gripping dance . . . .
And from the final stanza:
4.
To find trolls, strangers tell me of an island of myth, a place of cinnabar and incense burn . . . . They speak a twisting tongue, something gnarled, old. At the shoreline, small ships fight the winds that crash the docks. . . . Not here, they tell me. Soon, they say and build a fire at the base of a temple . . . . After a week of this circling, the meals of feta and fish, the strings of bartered dates, we arrive to the place of Frankincense trees. They give me the spile and I apply it to the trunk. Here? I ask. One sets up camp. The other holds the gun. When the stars come, the night thing begins again. I pray, just one repeating word inside the smoke.

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