Wednesday, September 16, 2020

You Must Take This Journey. There is no Other Way to Go

 From the Editor, Bacopa Literary Review 2020

Humor can provide a break or respite; it can also make difficult subjects more palatable, soften hard edges, tell a truth, release some demons, and upend expectations. Notes from the Creative Nonfiction Foundation Webinar with Shannon Reed, "When Is It Okay to Laugh?"

When we decided in January to invite humor this year, we had no idea a pandemic was about to descend on us--ostensibly not at all funny, yet an opportunity to soften some very hard truths and release a variety of demons.

Our readers can look forward to "normal" humor, such as Jon Shorr's "Jesus' Bar Mitzvah Speech" and Chris Gilmore's "Mansplaining." But the demands of quarantining, and responses to daily death rate tolls, have also brought a range of humorous responses.

Stuart Stromin's "An Open Letter to the Secretary General" notes the difficulty for canines to maintain the same enthusiasm, energy, and vigilance given humans' recent, more dog-like behavior, especially their unusual fondness for walks.

At the other end of coronavirus humor, we have "Notes from the Editors on 'Orange is the Darkest Color'" by Cadence Mandybura, reminding us how hard it is to believe the reality of our current grim experience.

Even where there was no mention of this spring's specific difficulties, a large percent of our submissions emphasized grief, family, love of pets, and ominous foreboding. So, the accepted works this year accurately reflect what's on the minds of writers and poets everywhere.

Sarina Bosco's "An interval of time just before the onset" seems to refer to an oncoming storm, but its threatening tone (and you wait--one, two) implies the "storm" could take any form.

Kurt Caswell recalls When the bomb cyclone hit west Texas, I was reading Emily Dickinson aloud to Kona, the German shepherd who shares my home. 

To die--without the Dying
And life--without the Life
This is the hardest Miracle

In "Body Everywhere," Hailee Nielsen writes, The first time I see a dead whale on the beach . . . I do not know . . . decay turns whale bodies into explosives.

Krista, In Evan Guilford-Blake's "Dust," probes her husband's ashes with her left index finger and keeps specks of it on her finger all day. Then walking in the rain, holding her son's small hand with her right hand, reaches out with her left and lets the water spill across it.

Among the works that are pandemic-related, most have at least some element of optimism. David B. Maas describes, while "Getting Ready for Bed," dismantling myself thought by thought, / until only my name remains / floating above me, trying to recall / how it knows me, this man, / this barely asleep ambassador of hope.

From Virginia Boudreau's elegy, "Grass": You've been gone almost eight years now . . . But still, this perfect brown bunny, on grass that's about to green is a gift. It's a resurrection of hope in this tired world riddled with a germ that also steals breath and provides no answers.

Facing a new normal under government-ordered quarantine, writes Virginia Watts in "The Mouth on the Mountain," we are no longer moving on top of the earth's surfaces as we used to. Watts recalls traveling the Pennsylvania Turnpike in the back seat of my parents' car, likening our current experience to being deep inside a tunnel: Your clouds and your sky, your moon and your sun, hidden from view. Even though this is not a place you are used to, you must take this journey. There is no other way to go.

Mary Bast, Senior Editor

Monday, July 20, 2020

Our Journal of the Plague Year

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

As deaths began to be reported, Londoners of 1665 reacted much as we in the U.S. reacted to early reports of  "a corona virus" from other parts of the world--initial concern, then forgetting about it, reading more specific information about "COVID-19," but raising our hopes again and back to life as usual. Until it was upon us. And while self-isolating to help flatten the curve (two phrases most of us had never uttered before this spring), things have been, perhaps, a little too quiet. In fact, we had three times as many submissions to Creative Nonfiction this year as in 2019.

Long before rumors emerged of the scary year to come, we decided to expand our Creative Nonfiction genre to include literary essays as well as personal memoir. Those we accepted provided balance in these otherwise off-balance times, including "Singultus," in which Ann Kathryn Kelly describes the unfolding diagnosis of her persistent hiccups; "The Garden in Eclipse," a late September elegy by gardener, birder, and naturalist Paul Grindrod ("On any day you might still see hummingbirds squabbling over feeding rights at the tubular pastel flowers of a sunset hyssop . . .");  and Cynthia Close's "Just Looking: A reflection on John Updike and what it means to write about art"--so intriguing to me as artist, writer, and Updike fan that I bought her key reference, Just Looking: Essays on Art by John Updike

In this 2020 Year of the Plague we also reviewed a number of  submissions specific to living with the novel coronavirus, including two accepted in Creative Nonfiction, Una Lomax-Emrick's "Chores" (When I washed my hands, I began to balance my phone on the edge of the bathroom mirror and play sitcoms into the basin to time the rinsing.) and "The Mouth on the Mountain" by Virginia Watts, who recalls her childhood trips through tunnels on the Pennsylvania turnpike (Even though this is not a place you are used to, you must take this journey . . .)

Our new Humor genre also brought plague year work. The elected representative of the Canine Association for Normal Exercise and Moderation expresses the concerns of its over-walked membership in Stuart Stromin's "An Open Letter to the Secretary General." In "Coronabrain," Ashley Chang amuses us with family quarantine scenes:
From my room, I can hear Mom and my brother Taylor getting popsicles from the fridge.
Taylor: I miss being able to go out to eat and having options.
Mom: I miss you having friends.
Finally, one of the rejection letter editors in Cadence Mandybura's Humor contribution, "Notes From the Editors on Orange is the Darkest Color" writes, "I personally loved this novel: a surreal black comedy with the stakes of truth vs. fiction winding higher and higher. Throwing in a worldwide pandemic is a daring, hyperbolic choice . . . This idea also has the potential for an episodic series, if you're interested in shifting the format to television."

*   *   *

Our 2020 issue, featuring these authors and many more
will be available mid-September in print and digital format.
Meanwhile, you can find Bacopa Literary Review at

Wednesday, July 15, 2020

Blood in the Asphalt, by Jesse Sensibar

Jesse Sensibar, contributor to Bacopa Literary Review 2019, has a new book  of poetry, photography, and memoir, Blood in the Asphalt: Prayers from the Highway, shortlisted for the 2019 Eric Hoffer Award Grand Prize.
"We are so often moving at breakneck speed, and this book is that rare thing, a quiet, commanding voice that says, stop. Stop, and notice . . ."  Carolyn Guinzio, author of Ozark Crows.

"Jesse Sensibar is a son of anarchy who crosses over the road and pauses to respect the lost, preserving their memory and laying bare his own mortality . . ." Brian Jabas Smith, author of Spent Saints & Other Stories.
Sensibar's Creative Nonfiction work in our 2019 issue shows the emotional power that can be packed into a few, well-chosen words:

Mi Madre tattooed across your clavicles at the top of your breastplate, and in her 3rd Street apartment she slapped your five-year-old face in rage anytime you called her mom.
     Me, putting on orange-and-white-striped cotton, my best collarless cowboy shirt, and talking to the judge. How surprised everyone was when she gave us a chance and released you to me.
     Both you and that blue Spanish Star .45 automatic I kept in my top dresser drawer were gone. Your betrayal hurt, but your mother's satisfied laughter hurt a little more.
     Seeing your face named Tucson's Most Wanted on the side of a city bus. Hearing how you stuck him in the neck with a hollow metal table leg. They said he bled out fast on your Wilmont Prison classroom floor.
     Four-thirty a.m., sitting across a round dining room table in flipflops with a highway patrolman your age. He'd come to tell me how you'd died.

I was glad it was not an expensive gun.
 *  *  *
Jesse Sensibar spends his time writing and promoting the art of storytelling. He helped develop the Narrow Chimney Reading Series, has been a judge for poetry and play writing awards, was a Visiting Author of Arizona State University, and served as executive director of the Northern Arizona Book Festival. He has received awards for play writing and creative nonfiction and his poetry and prose have appeared in more than 40 publications.

Monday, June 29, 2020

Bacopa Literary Review 2020 Prize Winners

2020 FICTION PRIZES (Editor James Singer III)

First Prize ($300): James D'Angelo, "Proxy" 
Second Prize ($100): Siamak Vossoughi, "Junk"

2020 SHORT-SHORT PRIZES (Editor Kaye Linden)

First Prize ($300): Sarina Bosco, "An interval of time just before the onset"
Second Prize ($100): Joshua Jones, "Remember the Mayflies"


First Prize ($300): Virginia Boudreau, "Grass"
Second Prize ($100): Rachel Amegatcher, "What Nightmare is This?"

2020 POETRY PRIZES (Editor J.N. Fishhawk)

First Prize ($300): Caitlin Cacciatore, "Sacrament"
Second Prize ($100): Patrick Cabello Hansel, "First Snowfall on 18th Avenue"

2020 HUMOR PRIZES (Editor Stephanie Seguin)

First Prize ($300): Jon Shorr, "Jesus's Bar Mitzvah Speech"
Second Prize ($100): Cadence Mandybura, "Notes from the Editors on Orange is the Darkest Color"

Monday, June 15, 2020

The Contagion of Rhythm and Pacing

by former Bacopa Literary Review 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! 

Saturday, May 30, 2020

Dean Gessie's award-winning collection, "Anthropocene"

by Bacopa Literary Review Editor Mary Bast
Readers searching for the artful language of Fitzgerald and the cultural relevance of Achebe in a volume that speaks directly to global citizens of the twenty-first century have finally found their lost ark . . . Keith Kupsch, Director of the Joshua Weinzweig Creative Writing Program.
Bacopa Literary Review congratulates our 2018 Short Story prize winner, Dean Gessie, awarded the Uncollected Press Prize and the Eyelands Book Award for his new short story collection, Anthropocene, published recently by The Raw Art Review/Uncollected Press.

From Anaphora Literary Press, Anna Faktorovich, Director, PhD, 1108 W. 3rd St., Quanah, TX, 79252
Gessie's poetry is "Genius with a pocketful of broken fetters." Tongo Eisen-Martin, shortlisted for the Griffin International Poetry Prize and a California Book Award
Gessie is "one of the finest short story writers in the world." Henry Stanton, Founding and Managing Editor, The Raw Art Review, Publisher, Uncollected Press, Maryland.
Dean Gessie is a Canadian author and poet who has won multiple international prizes. Dean won the Angelo Natoli Short Story Award in Australia, the Half and One Literary Prize in India, the Eyelands Book Award in Greece, the Short Story prize at the Eden Mills Writers Festival in Canada and--in Maryland--the Uncollected Press Prize for a short story collection. Dean also won the Enizagam International Poetry Contest in California and he was selected for inclusion in The Sixty-Four Best Poets of 2018 and The Sixty-Four Best Poets of 2019 by Black Mountain Press in North Carolina. In addition, Dean won the Bacopa Literary Review Short Story Contest in Florida, the Two Sisters Short Story Contest in New Mexico, the New Millennium Sunshots Flash Fiction contest in Tennessee and (twice) the After Dinner Conversation Short Story Competition in Arizona. Dean also won second prize (of 2000+ submissions) in the Short Story Project New Beginnings competition in New York and his short story made the shortlist (of 2800+ submissions) for the Alpine Fellowship Prize in Sweden.

Sunday, May 24, 2020

Criteria for Accept/Decline Decisions

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

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

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

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

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

    Monday, April 27, 2020

    Guidelines Don't Limit Your Freedom!

    by Bacopa Literary Review Senior Editor Mary Bast

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Thursday, April 16, 2020

    2020 Contest Open Until May 31!

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Wednesday, April 8, 2020

    Melding Music and Memory

    by Bacopa Literary Review 2019 contributor Korena Di Roma Howley

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Friday, March 27, 2020

    Hermit Crab Essay: One Story in the Shell of Another

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

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

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

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

    Thursday, March 19, 2020

    Questioning Your Own Reality

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

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

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

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

    Friday, March 13, 2020

    Everything About Today is Violet

    by Bacopa Literary Review Senior Editor Mary Bast

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

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

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

    Tuesday, March 10, 2020

    Killer Words: "Admirable Men"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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