Bacopa Literary Review

Writers Alliance of Gainesville's international journal in its 8th year
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Monday, December 26, 2016

"That's Just the Moonshine Talking. . ."

by 2016 Poetry Editor Kaye Linden

Why did I choose "Big Bang" as Bacopa Literary Review 2016's Second Place Prize in Poetry? Because it's a fine example of a prose poem, not only playful in form (note the numbered headings) but edgy and courageous in its occasional promiscuity. Note also the daring in Leslie Anne Mcilroy's clever handling of a highly creative and unique theme in which each planet of the solar system is personified; that is, given human characteristics. I like an enterprising poet who's not afraid of judgment, willing to take the risk of writing her passion while at the same time keeping the poem controlled and tight.

This exceptionally creative poem, with its undertone of sensuality and sexuality, incorporates extensive alliteration, assonance, imagery, and other well-handled poetic devices. Its underlying themes and implications are far-reaching and significant. I generally balk at the use of "you" in a poem. Unless used skillfully, the second person point of view can create an awkward and often tiresome read. But it works here because it's used only enough for us to identify with the scenes Mcilroy paints. The "you" slips into the background while we read the poem.

The allusion to Syzygy in the first stanza (from ancient Greek "yoked together") refers to the alignment of sun, moon, earth, as in an eclipse. In astrology, the degree to which the moon is waxing or waning prior to one's birth is called the Prenatal Syzygy. And so "Big Bang" is born:
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.
 2. Sex with Mercury
He's moving so fast, first tongue and then on your nipple. Hot then cold, the way he presses his c--k against your thigh and turns away, as if to make you beg for it, send some kind of message. You'd like to f--k him and his runner's calves, but he's empty, mouth like a crater, makes you want to give him something, anything--light, beauty, a moon.
3. IM with Venus
You don't identify as lesbian or even bi, but she is so lovely, a sister, the way she offers to comb your hair, keep your secrets. You chat late, whisper, find yourself daydreaming of something so bright your future can't hold it. She's strong and a little pushy--that time she said she would crush you if you kissed her, how you can't see her surface for her soul. 
4. Dancing with Mars

Follow his steps. He thinks you know them, looks up your number on his iphone, noting you were filed as organized, Type A. He likes that, he says as he spirals your body, caught finally to his chest, and spreading his scarlet cloak over your shoulders, says perhaps you should take a breather, chill out, slips his red pen in your pocket, hot in his cardinal pants.
5. Ring Toss with Jupiter

It is a strange date, like bowling, but you acquiesce, thinking you can throw all kinds of things and hit the mark. I mean, he's not Saturn or anything. You were wrong and all your rings lie outside the target. As you collect them, you hear him say something to his friends about largesse, how he might buy you coffee anyway, despite your small heart, your need for solidity.
6. Reconnecting with Saturn
Far more challenging than the ring toss, this. "There is a circle inside you," he says. "You hold it like a question, want to know the answer, but I only want to hold you now and then." Time is a zero, less dense than water, and you bathe in his beauty, walk round and round in the sun's dim light, say something about giving more than you receive--heat--leave to go home, but find yourself circling back, dizzy--bands of light orbiting like cuffs, like chains, always returning to the same place.
7. Coffee with Uranus
The jokes are too obvious and the froth, flat. Standing in the rear of the line, you wonder who will pay. You order an Americano, he, an espresso. Far from discovered, you hunch over your cup and wait out the silence. Nothing is what you have to talk about and you do it well. When you leave, he thanks you for paying. You think he is slow and forgive him his lack of genteel, slip over to the bar and order something stronger.
8. Cocktails (or Not) with Neptune
You order Pino Grigio and he looks at you with a sneer, demands water straight up, practicing hydration. You ask for water, too, but don't touch it. Sip by sip, the wine goes down and he goes on about how glorious the world is sober. His body is warm, like a pool, but you can't swim. When you say goodnight, he kisses you and you swallow, go back to the bar, have another.
9. Lunch with Pluto

He squints at the appetizers, a blur of 9-point serif font, leans back in his chair almost tipping the axis, and you feel a sharp intake of breath, so cold, you put your sweater on and order soup. He tosses the menu aside, orders the special and leans in, smaller with each word, says he's interested in intimacy, in getting closer, but you seem so distant, so far away.
10. Making Out with Earth

His hands are big and a little clumsy, tongue wet like the oceans and breath, dry as the Mojave. He doesn't seem to have a grasp on purpose, to engage, to excite, embrace, but rather to separate. I say to him, "Let me in." He says he has walls. I say "We are not alike." He says "Don't say that out loud." He is weary with the working of the bra strap and I with his flags, more red than blue or white. In the end, he gives up. Tells me about continents of desire, his hard-on for assimilation. When I leave, he tucks the bar tab in a history book, says the cost of being together is too much to pay.
11. Email with the Moon

It's a hard job, this coming out every night without a day off, everyone measuring your luminess. What he wouldn't give to sleep in, order takeout, watch Close Encounters of the Third Kind. You empathize, though you are far from systemic, doing only enough to get by. He says he likes how you sometimes fail to be at your desk at 8:30 am, how creative you are with clocks. He could learn something from not having to rise. LOL.
12. Dinner with the Sun

It's hard to choose a restaurant. You go back and forth: Italian, Portuguese, Greek, Ethiopian. I am everywhere, says Sun, and if I choose one, the others will give me the cold shoulder. 27 million degrees of obligation. Finally, we go to my place, where I pour stiff drinks and cook eggs with basil, rice with cumin--flavors so bright, we are blinded with hunger. Beating down on the table, Sun says I'm warming up to you. And I say, that's just the moonshine talking.
The final lines speak of the moon and the sun. Note the circling back in imagery to the first line (Date with Syzygy) and the neat tying up of the poem with the clever last line.


Leslie Anne Mcilroy won the 1997 Slipstream Poetry Chapbook Prize for Gravel, the 2001 Word Press Poetry Prize for her full-length collection Rare Space, and the 1997 Chicago Literary Award. Her second book, Liquid Like This, was published by Word Press, and Slag by Main Street Rag Publishing Company. Leslie's poems appear in Connotation Press, Grist, Jubilat, The Mississippi Review, The Nervous Breakdown, PANK, Pearl, Poetry Magazine, New Ohio Review, The Chiron Review, and more. She is co-founder and managing editor of HEArt -- Human Equity through Art (see "A Conversation with Leslie Anne Mcilroy). Leslie works as a copywriter in Pittsburgh.

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(The "adult language" above is correctly presented in the print journal, but disguised here because we don't want to mark this site as having "adult" content, which creates viewing problems for some people. See Blogger's policy regarding adult language.)


Thursday, December 8, 2016

Still Seeking Sestina Skills

by Editor-in-Chief Mary Bast

Challenged by 2016 Poetry Editor Kaye Linden to write a sestina, initially I thought the form looked too complicated to even attempt. However, in Kaye's recent interchanges with Carolyne Wright, one of the resources mentioned was Obsession: Sestinas in the Twenty-First Century. I immediately bought a copy, and found the contents so exciting I had to try this poetic form described by Carolyne as "a spiral turning inward."

 

Traditionally, the first stanza's end words are repeated exactly throughout (in the prescribed changing order). But some poets in Obsession bent the rule of exact repetition. For example, in Maxine Kumin's "In Praise of the New Transfer Station" the end word edge reappears as hedge and sedge and in the second stanza (this slays me), "a motley assortment of mohawked Harrys and Eds."

I thought If Maxine Kumin could do it, I can do it, drafted a six-line first stanza, used the sestin-a-matic to determine the location of repeated words, and followed the sestina pattern (after a helpful critique by Kaye Linden, and later by the Gainesville Poets & Writers). Playing around with the first stanza's end words while composing the poem, I came up with these variations: Man/humanity/men/women/humanitarian, jokes/joke's/ joke/Joker, pain/painful, hollow/halo/hole/Hallow's/howl, friends/friend, and weep/sweepstakes:
Sestina: Bereft for Barack
I cannot deify The Man                        
who makes jokes,                                 
negates a deeper pain,                         
hides behind a hollow                          
laugh. He should be, friends,               
the first to weep.                                   

How can he but weep,                          
hold out for humanity?                        
Climate deniers, no friends                
of earth, deny the joke's              
on them, souls too hollow                   
to sense our planet's pain.                   

The Pres should feel such pain
he can do nothing but weep.
Instead he hides behind a halo
while radicalized young white men
advance like a fatal joke.
His Hollywood and Washington friends,

his White House correspondent friends,
rather than mirror our certain pain,
retweet satirical political jokes,
while every one of them should weep
for gays, blacks, Muslims, women
going down the alt-right rabbit hole. 

This dark ground we tread is hollow
where our Standing Rock Sioux friends,
seeking the mythic Medicine Man,
suffer rubber bullets, cold water, pain
of ignored treaties instead. So weep
for them, too, while Barackobama jokes

with Jerry Seinfeld: You have to joke
about all the stupid stuff. Is this All Hallow's
Eve, world leaders tripping out of their minds? I weep
that Tuesdays he picks from a kill list. And friends,
his admin built more nuclear everything. A painful
question: where is our Nobel humanitarian?

In the coming sweepstakes our dealer's The Joker,
a man whose choices would make Allen Ginsberg howl,*
whose global warming skeptic friends will rewrite psalms to render pain.
_____________________________________________________________
*I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness... Moloch! Moloch! Nightmare of   Moloch...  Congress of sorrows!... Moloch whose blood is running money!... Moloch the vast stone of war... whose love is endless oil and stone!... 
Moloch: the ancient pagan god of child sacrifice.
________________________________________
"My President was Black" by Ta-Nahisi Coates: "...my last conversation with the president. I asked him how his optimism was holding up, given Trump's victory... he said his general optimism about the shape of American history remained unchanged. 'To be optimistic about the long-term trends of the United States doesn't mean that everything is going to go in a smooth, direct, straight line,' he said."


Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Seeking Sestina Skills (continued)

In Seeking Sestina Skills, Poetry Editor Kaye Linden posted a sestina she'd written called "Naropa's Riddles." Earlier, Kaye interviewed Carolyne Wright about the sestina form. Here we have (in italics) Carolyne's critique of Kaye's original version of "Naropa's Riddles."

Naropa's Riddles

I wonder about the name "Naropa"--it is so deeply associated in my mind with the center located in Boulder, CO, started by those wild and crazy guys and gals, the Dharma Bums, Allen Ginsberg, Anne Waldman, Ram Dass, et al. In other words, with a free-wheeling, decadent, fun and hash-hazed but not very focused attitude of "Let's play at Tibetan Buddhism--so groovy!" I don't think you intended that range of associations! Maybe another Tibetan name for the wise teacher in this poem? By the way, the shortened religious name of His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama is Tenzin Gyatso--his civilian family name was Lhamo Thondup. His story is fascinating. So, some typical Tibetan name, associated with a more serious practice and without the wild and crazy associations, would be better for this poem, I think!

Naropa yokes his yak in silence.       A                                            
I study the fine pink fingers of a Tibetan dawn, nature's    B (conventional phrase)                 
magic. Wispy white clouds highlight my mourning (no motive for mourning given yet)               
my dreaded ride back  D  (I would *show, not tell* here)                                                               
from this mountain heightE                                                          
I turn to Naropa: "This cave is home."  F                                           

Naropa feigns surprise. "Home? Home?"                                     
Where on this earth is home? He laughs, but falls into deep silence,   (cut)  
into contemplation. He raises his immense monk's height   (telling, not showing here)                    
onto the yak: "Such a gentle nature                                               
she has [,]" the master says as he strokes her back(add comma)             
"Learn from her." He rides down the mountain, into the clear light of morning   (*cliché*) 
      
and along a stony trail. I follow. "Listen," he says. "No mourning   
for this mountain cave that you call home                                       
because you must go back                                                             
to within your true Self, into inner silence  (I'd cut this--redundant)                              
to find your true nature.                                                                  
Believe me, truth is not upon this mountain height   (cut--not needed)                  

nor is your home upon any other height                                        
nor in any valley. Still this restless mourning                                 
and find your essential nature                                                       
your ancient face, your original home                                            
within the depths of complete silence                                             
Listen, listen, and never look back.                                                

I am censured by the Master. It is not my place to talk back  (You *show* this in the previous stanza, so no need to *tell* it here, especially using the passive voice)      
to the teacher. Dwarfed by his lofty height                                    
I am chided into silence,                                                               
into a meditation of sorts, a mourning                                          
for the mountain cave, a longing for home,                                   
for his teachings, for this sanctuary in nature.                              

The Master speaks thus: "About your essential nature: (I'd cut)                 
sit still with a straight back.                                                           
Find the veiled but simple way home                                            
by coming down from this physical height(I'd cut--let *height* have more meanings)                       Because you try to finger the nameless you mourn                     
the loss of it. Now, no more questions. Meditate in silence.         

I ride down the spiraling trail in the peace of nature from this mountain height   B   E
back to the physical monastery with the hope of a new morning    D   C                    
inside my inner home. For now, I lament my mountain cave in silence  F   A
(Editor's Note: The last tercet is called an envoi, consisting of three lines that include all six of the line-ending words of the preceding stanzas. According to Wikipedia, the end words traditionally took the pattern of B-E, D-C, F-A; the first end word of each pair occurring anywhere in the line, the second ending the line. However, the end-word order of the envoi is no longer strictly enforced. As you can see, the envoi end words in the above "Naropa's Riddles" take the traditional pattern of  E -  C - A. However, the envoi end words in Carolyne Wright's "Sestina: Into Shadow" are D - E - F; and in "Sestina: That mouth..." the envoi end words are C - E - B.)
More notes from Carolyne--

I would consider trying to reduce the didacticism of this poem, and introduce more imagery. Let the imagery do the work of conveying meaning, and let all the *teaching moments* be in the dialogue quoted from the wise teacher. Otherwise, the poem is too dry--too "teachy preachy" as I often say.

In terms of concrete imagery, I would not mind seeing more of the yak! -- and maybe other creatures who form part of the surrounding life up on that mountain. What wisdom do they impart (as in fables that feature animals and usually have a didactic purpose conveyed in imagery and with animal characters)

A sestina that is set in a landscape not unlike that of yours, and that has thematic resonances as well, is the Donald Justice poem, "Here in Katmandu." It is an "incomplete sestina"--a sestina without the final envoi. You might want to read it to get a sense of how Justice handles a similar terrain and thematic concerns with the contrast of mountain and valley, dizzying barren heights and crowded lower-level human habitations... and all the metaphorical implications thereof.

Curtis Faville has some insights into this poem that I shared in one of the last Craft of Poetry courses taught for the late, great Whidbey MFA Program. Here is one excerpt from Faville--
Justice was not the outdoors-y type, scurrying around the world looking for adventure. He was a quiet man, who lived modestly, and privately. "Here in Katmandu"--though it is ostensibly about the vicissitudes of toil and adventure--is therefore not a celebration of the physical exhilaration of climbing, or the bracing impressions of altitude and the immediacy of strange landscape(s). It is, instead, a poem about desire and unresolved contradiction.
And more of what I said in that online course posting--
Interesting that Justice didn't seem to want to "crowd" his sestina with an envoi and those two end words per line--as Faville phrases it: this sestina "employs the classical 'retrogradatio cruciata' but lacks the ultimate tercet [what our other writers call the envoi]. Repeating all six words in the concluding tercet would almost certainly ruin the poem by drawing undue attention to the formal crowdedness of the structure." 
Or maybe Justice simply had said all he had to say by the conclusion of the sixth sestet--as Faville implies when he writes, "At poem's end, there's nothing left unsaid, or unattended, nothing wasted. Each kind of anxiety--whether for the heights or for static resolution--is perfectly weighted against its opposite... At the highest plane of awareness, snow and flowers, the heights and the depths, are but the flimsy simulacrums of a deeper reality, of which this mortal world is composed."
 So this sestina, "imcomplete" though it is, may give you some ideas! Hope all these comments help!

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Seeking Sestina Skills

Kaye Linden's Attempt at Writing a Sestina (link below to Carolyne Wright's critique of this sestina)

The sestina mandates six verses of six lines each with a fixed repetition pattern, and a tercet at the end known as an envoi, which contains the six repeated words. The bolded letters in the poem are the repeated words: silence, nature, mourning, back, height, home.
Naropa's Riddles

Naropa yokes his yak in silence.                                                     
I study the fine pink fingers of a Tibetan dawn, nature's                  
magic. Wispy white clouds highlight my mourning,                          
my dreaded ride back                                                                      
from this mountain height.                                                               
I turn to Naropa: "This cave is home."                                              

Naropa feigns surprise. "Home? Home?"                                         
Where on this earth is home? He laughs, but falls into silence,      
contemplation. He raises his immense monk's height                       
onto the yak: "Such a gentle nature                                                
she has," the master says as he strokes her back.                         
"Learn from her." He rides down the mountain, into morning           
and along a stony trail. I follow. "Listen," he says. "No mourning   
for this mountain cave that you call home                                       
because you must go back                                                             
to within your true Self, into inner silence                                       
to find your true nature.                                                                  
Believe me, truth is not upon this mountain height                         

nor is your home upon any other height                                        
nor in any valley. Still this restless mourning                                 
and find your essential nature                                                       
your ancient face, your original home                                            
within the depths of complete silence                                             
Listen, listen, and never look back.                                                

I am censured by the Master. It is not my place to talk back          
to the teacher. Dwarfed by his lofty height                                    
I am chided into silence,                                                               
into a meditation of sorts, a mourning                                          
for the mountain cave, a longing for home,                                   
for his teachings, for this sanctuary in nature.                              

The Master speaks: "About your essential nature:                       
sit still with a straight back.                                                           
Find the veiled but simple way home                                            
by coming down from this physical height.                                   
Because you try to finger the nameless you mourn                     
the loss of it. Now, no more questions. Meditate in silence.         

I ride down the spiraling trail in the peace of nature from this mountain height    
back to the physical monastery with the hope of a new morning                          
inside my inner home. For now, I lament my mountain cave in silence.                
(Read Carolyne Wright's critique of this sestina here.)

Monday, November 21, 2016

Ah hah! This is a Sestina! (continued)

Q & A--The Sestina, with Kaye Linden, Poetry Editor for Bacopa Literary Review, and poetry prize winner/Pushcart nominee Carolyne Wright (see part I here): 

KL: How long did it take you to master the sestina form?

CW: To complete my first successful sestina, in the days before I had textbooks that provided a diagram of the template and multiple examples of successful sestinas, I simply studied Elizabeth Bishop's "A Miracle for Breakfast," a poem I had first read around the time I studied with her. I copied out and followed the end-word pattern in this sestina, trusting that since it was written by Miss Bishop, it would be correct--faithful to the form as a traditional sestina. (It is!) At that time, I didn't notice the outer-to-inner movement of the end words.

That first sestina was a revision of an earlier attempt I had composed during the workshop with Miss Bishop, and then set aside for a couple of years. Once I put my mind to revising this one, and making it work, it took a few sessions of a few hours each to complete--but this was after a hiatus of two or three years since drafting the first version. 

Several years later, while traveling in Europe without any sestinas with me and before I understood the 6 - 1 - 5 - 2 - 4 - 3 template pattern, I goofed up in two sestinas. I followed an incorrect order of end words, but I followed the pattern consistently through all the stanzas. These sestinas were already published in literary magazines by the time I noticed this "error"! 

Meanwhile, the editors who accepted them for publication either didn't notice, or thought without mentioning it that I had followed a deliberate variation. I rather suspect that the editors didn't notice! :-) But since the end-word patterns were internally consistent, I didn't attempt to rewrite those two sestinas.

KL: I love the way you mixed contemporary themes with a traditional form in your winning poetry entry, "Sestina: That mouth... " Did you write that consciously or did it just emerge?

CW: Thanks for your kind words about "Sestina: That mouth..."! If I recall correctly, this sestina started as a poem in couplets--but as I wrote, I noticed that some words were recurring a lot, so the sestina! light went on in my brain, and I began to pattern the poem with those recurring words as the end words. That has been my usual procedure with sestinas--I don't typically set out to construct a sestina, but instead I try to cooperate with the language as it comes, and allow it to suggest to me the form it wants to take. Of course, when I give the sestina as a writing assignment to students, they have to set out to write one! And I often try to write one along with them. 

I wrote this sestina soon after moving to Coral Gables, FL, to teach for a semester as Visiting Poet at the University of Miami. For some reason I had occasion to speak on the phone with an old friend, a man I had known years before--we had been in a serious relationship fifteen years earlier, but had had little contact since then. This long-distance phone call was rife with tension, verbal and emotional maneuverings, his wariness and my determination to connect in a genuine manner.

The tensions of that phone call dropped me back into the circumstances of our last months together--in a traditional shotgun house in New Orleans that he was repairing and renovating. The phone call brought back the vividness of those final months before I left (for all the reasons to which the poem alludes)--it was almost as if we were once again in New Orleans, and the current phone call was a sort of emotional overlay on those earlier days. All of this was top of mind as I started writing the poem--soon turned into a sestina--which dramatizes that dynamic, of the past coming to life in the present, of the energies and tension still vibrant between the speaker of the poem and the former lover at the other end of the line.

KL: Can you recommend any books for writers to read that can enhance their knowledge and practice of fixed forms?

CW: There are a few books that I have used frequently as texts in Craft of Poetry courses, and other classes that I have taught focusing on form. Here is a short list:
Annie Finch & Katherine Vames, editors. An Exaltation of Forms: Contemporary Poets Celebrate the Diversity of Their Art (University of Michigan Press, 2002).

John Drury. the po.e.try dic.tion.ar.y (Writer's Digest Books, second edition, 2006).

Mark Strand and Eavan Boland. The Making of a Poem: A Norton Anthology of Poetic Forms (W.W. Norton & Company, 2001).

Lewis Turco, The New Book of Forms: A Handbook of Poetics (University Press of New England, 1986 and later).
And here are two recent volumes specifically focusing on the sestina:
Carolyn Beard Whitlow and Marilyn Krysl, editors. Obsession: Sestinas in the Twenty-First Century (Dartmouth College Press, 2014).

Daniel Nester, editor. The Incredible Sestina Anthology (Write Bloody Publishing, 2013).


Bacopa Literary Review, "Sestina: That mouth..."

Bacopa Literary Review 2016 First Prize in Poetry and Pushcart nominee, Carolyne Wright

"...always going," you taunt, as I gab on the phone
with poets from Napoleon's Bar: your nervous lover
blowing plosives and palatals into the rum-colored
mouthpiece. My face flushed as the season's
Zephyr-cheeks, puffing from the celestial edges
of old maps, trying to scare up a storm.

Our shotgun house lists on its storm-
pilings. "Girl, you carrying on that phone
like there's no tomorrow." That Beulah Baptist edge
to your  voice, the plea I miss: blame's lover
fixing the house from the inside, season
of sweat and fragile equity you strip old color

from the sheetrock. Our balance sheet is colored
red, like tempest clouds that terrify a firestorm
survivor. Unsecured debt and the hurricane season
come around again. Get off that phone
and talk to me, you mean. Who else is your lover?
Your unvoiced question with its double edge.

We're tired of living on the edge,
taking our losses up-front. Would the sky's color
change its mind? Could we go on as lovers
as our self-protective gestures--those private storms--
swirl into the vortex of the telephone's
receiver, reverse polarities of the season?

We already lean into another season.
You embrace your own shadow at the room's far edge.
"Take me as I am," I say, and hang up the phone.
Weapons in your concealed history scare me, color
of your skin a risk we share, desire like a summer storm
I almost could have married, if I were a lover

who could smile past your other lovers.
Could I smile now, years too late to give our season
another chance? My leaving you: a freak storm
that gathered its own momentum. Reasons I acknowledge,
debts to each other deferred: memory's colors
don't fade from your voice, on today's blue telephone.

The season bleeds into another decade's color,
millennial storms are on the rise. You're on edge
now, on the phone with me. But who else is your lover?

(Read the origin of this poem here, and more about the sestina form here.)

Friday, November 11, 2016

Ah Hah! This is a Sestina!

By Poetry Editor Kaye Linden

Carolyne Wright won this year's first prize in the Bacopa Literary Review poetry contest. Why did I choose this poem over other engaging poetry? A sestina is a poem structured within a fixed form and it is a difficult form to write well because of its mathematical formulaic structure. I particularly enjoyed the way Carolyne incorporated a modern theme and dialogue into this traditional form. I enjoy writers who gently balance on the edge of tradition by mixing up genres, traditions and expectations. Carolyne is one such poet and I thank her for submitting to our poetry contest.

Q & A--The Sestina, with Kaye Linden, Poetry Editor for Bacopa Literary Review, and poetry prize winner Carolyne Wright

KL: What makes a sestina so special to you? 

CW: This is one of my favorite forms, and it has been a fun proving ground for a few generations of American poets. The end words, and the set pattern in which they are supposed to recur, test one's ability to stick with a subject and explore it from all angles, in a sort of lyric-narrative contemplation. For this and other reasons, I call the sestina an exercise in "poetic cubism." The sestina is a very flexible form, in that it seems to work equally well for deep, serious subjects; humorous, light subjects; and lyrical, philosophical subjects.

This is a form that I learned initially from Elizabeth Bishop, in the workshop of hers that I was part of at the University of Washington. Although for her class I wrote nothing "good," the lessons in poetic prosody and form have stayed with me up to this day.

KL: Describe the sestina's format?

CW: The first known sestina was composed in about 1182 in the South of France by the trouvere (poet/singer/composer) Arnaut Daniel (1150-1210). The poem's original language was Provençal, or langue-d'oc, now called Occitan--a southern variant of French. With its medieval origins, the sestina has a sort of archetypal structure, consisting of 39 lines divided into 6 stanzas of 6 lines each, and final 3-line envoi (the farewell, or what I like to call the "send-off"). These six end words are repeated in a set order: after the first stanza, every stanza's end words follow this pattern: 6 - 1 - 5 - 2 - 4 - 3.

The end-word recurrence pattern in diagrams looks rather like a spiral or a cat's-cradle. That is, the first end word of one stanza is always the last end word of the previous stanza, then back to the penultimate (fifth) end word of the previous stanza, then the second end word of the previous stanza, etc. So, if we are trying to write a sestina without the full template of end word ordering, we can use this 6 - 1 - 5 - 2 - 4 - 3 end-word ordering as the basic rule, moving from outward to inward, stanza by stanza, till we have written all six.

For the end-word order in the three-line envoi that concludes the sestina: the proper form is to fit two end words into each line of this final tercet--one inside each line, one at the end of each line. These end words can be in any order here, which gives more chance to continue to sound "natural" in this form, even in its tightest space. We compensate for that extra compression, the stricture of having to fit two end words per line in the envoi, with this freedom to put those end words in any order. (See Carolyne Wright's "Sestina: Into Shadow" as an example.)

The sestina's end-word sequence seems to have followed a set pattern from the beginning, and it apparently had a numerological significance in the time of Arnaut Daniel and the other troubadours. Though the pattern may look maddeningly arbitrary, the movement is always from outer words to inner words, almost a spiral turning inward. That sort of movement could have a spiritual / alchemical significance--certainly the medieval mind would resonate with that.

KL: How does a writer benefit from writing in this form?

CW: I love the effect of the end-word repetitions in the sestina. If we aren't specifically looking for these, they can be very subtle--I have been fooled a number of times, reading three or four stanzas into a poem before realizing, "Ah-hah, this is a sestina!" One of Marilyn Hacker's narrative sestinas, Untoward Occurrence at Embassy Poetry Reading, caught me off-guard in graduate school. It's in the voice of a guest poet reading at some overseas diplomatic outpost, who is gradually revealed to be a guerrilla fighter. It took me three stanzas, the first time I read it, to notice the pattern of repeating end words and to realize that I was reading a sestina!

The benefits for a writer in practicing this form are inherent in the repeating and interlacing of the end words, which cause the same ideas, as carried by those words, to re-combine and return. As I said earlier, the sestina embodies a sort of "poetic cubism." It is a form that tests the poet's ability to focus on the poem's subject and explore it from all angles, in a sort of lyric narrative contemplation. The poet finds herself invoking the same words in different variations over and over again--such repetition with variation lends to any pattern of words, including those of the sestina, a certain gravitas, a certain weight and significance.

The sestina is one of the formal poetic patterns that allow me to enter the depths of language to discover insights that I would not have accesse3d as readily through free verse. In fact, I used to discover insights more readily via free verse--at least I thought I did! And it's fun to read older poems of mine and re-experience those moments of coming upon some insight in the writing of those poems. But more and more, this experience, this kind of discovery, this kind of insight or illumination embedded in the language, comes in the writing of poems in form. 

*     *     *

(The second half of my interview with Carolyne Wright is here. Also, click here for a tool to help you experiment with the sestina form. KL)


Thursday, November 10, 2016

Sestina: Into Shadow, by Carolyne Wright

(After the Wreck of the Costa Concordia, January 2012)

The dead wait in the ferry line with their one-way
tickets in their pockets. Their faces are shadows,
their memories thinning wisps. Their voices are cries
of cormorants whose black wings skim the waves
unfurling from the ferry's wake. The dead
have given away their sailings, they open their hands

to show us--see? How empty they are! Hands
no longer bracing them at railings on their way
across the Sound to the rain-lit islands of the dead
or back to the great city, busy with shadows
of gray gulls that hover on thermals above the waves.
Passengers crowd decks of the cruise ship docked nearby, their cries

lost in the descending scale of bald eagles' cries
as they circle the harbor. Passengers push back the hands
of the dead without knowing. They hear only waves
that slap the pilings, rumble of taxis on their way
to hotels, where passengers bed down with shadows
of themselves and turn their dreams over to the dead

who may be themselves in a future guise, receded
from the world they think they know--where Poe's raven cries
"Nevermore!" and no one leaves signs, only shadows
that glide across antique mirrors, their hands
opening doors in the reflected walls, the way
that spirits mirror only glass, and waves

re-enter the harbor's greater water. Wave
goodbye, passengers, to these spirits. Your own dead
still wait their turns, as you make your way
next evening back to your vessel, the steward's cry
of "All Aboard!" the ship's whistle stirring shadows
of harbor seals, who glide off, slap flipper hands

at the propellers' oily roil. Deck hands
uncoil hawsers from bollards, the slip slips over the waves'
horizon as night herons row their wings into shadow,
and figures on the pier fade into translucence--the dead
who echo their once-bodied selves in every cry
of farewell. The ferry, too, is on its way

at last, into shadow. The harbor's darkening waves
double back on themselves, and the cries of the dead
echo underwater--moving away, beyond the rescuers' hands.

First Prize in Poetry, Bacopa: A Literary Review (2013)

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Bacopa Literary Review 2016: From the Editor

What better way to evoke the quality of my experience as Editor-in-Chief than recalling a near delirium of top-quality submissions? Already infatuated with Bacopa Literary Review by the time submissions opened, within weeks I began receiving emails like these from the genre editors:
“I am so happy—receiving a flood of good poems!”
“Some fine nonfiction submissions coming in. Need more space.”
“I love the voice of this narrator, the rhythms of the sentences, her fine feel for the structure of a story.”
How lucky I feel to have embraced this opportunity—to help an established literary review of six years continue to thrive, in collaboration with a team of experienced writers eager to try new approaches. Thank you former editors for handing us this gift, and thank you Writers Alliance
of Gainesville for supporting our vision and providing financial backing.

While we no doubt worried a few people with our changes, the new editorial board wanted to refresh Bacopa’s image in the eyes of the writing public. For example, Bacopa’s 2016 cover was the winning design from our cover art contest. The abstract Bacopa flower concept symbolizes our challenge to poets and writers for contemporary as well as traditional work. We shortened the submission period, eliminated fees, and committed to responding to all submissions within three months. In addition to the usual ads, we expanded our presence through social media, bumping up Bacopa’s Twitter account, adding a Facebook page, and posting frequently on our new Editors’ Blog—to promote contributors and demonstrate the quality of writing we seek.

We invited and, happily, received poetry that turns our world upside down, nonfiction that makes us laugh or cry, fiction that evokes Virginia Wolff, Vladimir Nabokov, Flannery O’Connor. Chosen from almost 1500 submissions, our 60 contributors across genres will transform the way you view the world. Their inspirations range from an ancient Persian stew to Chekhov to present-day piercings. The variety of work is as classical as the centuries-old haiku, as experimental as a bedroom that grows, as lyrical as the Joycean rush of a memoir in 1/60th-of-a-second sentence fragments.

Please join us in our adventure: Bacopa Literary Review 2016!

Mary Bast, Editor-in-Chief
Susie Baxter, Associate Editor
Mary Bridgman, Managing Editor
Kaye Linden, Poetry Editor
U.R. Bowie, Fiction Editor
Rick Sapp, Creative Nonfiction Editor

Friday, October 7, 2016

Our 2016 Pushcart Nominations

by Editor-in-Chief Mary Bast

Our Pushcart nominations are in the mail, so we can officially congratulate five contributors from our 2016 issue.

Bacopa Literary Review 2016 Pushcart Prize nominations:

"The Crooked Man" (fiction), by Afia Atakora:
Afia Atakora is currently earning her MFA at Columbia University. She lives in Avenel, New Jersey, where she is at work on a novel about a reconstruction-era midwife.
"Sestina: That mouth . . ." (poetry), by Carolyne Wright:
Carolyne Wright's most recent book is the anthology, Raising Lilly Ledbetter: Women Poets Occupy the Workspace (Lost Horse Press, 2015). This anthology is the recipient of ten Pushcart Prize nominations and is a finalist in The Foreword Review's Book of the Year Awards. Wright has nine other poetry volumes and five volumes of poetry in translation, and received a Pushcart Prize in 2010. Since 2005, when she returned to her native Seattle, she has taught for the Whidbey Writers Workshop MFA Program and for Richard Hugo House.
"Life of a Scion watched too tightly Against its nature" (poetry), by Lynn Geri:
Lynn Geri waited until she was into her seventh decade to take up the study of poetry. She has become deeply engaged with the beauty and romance of language. Lynn lives in a forest on Whidbey Island, in Washington State's Puget Sound. She is also to be published in the Sonora Review.
"--the Speed of Grass--the Speed of Us" (nonfiction), by Michael Farrell Smith:
Michael Farrell Smith's work has been published in Tin House, New Delta Review, Booth, and elsewhere. His nonfiction piece in Bacopa Literary Review 2016 is experimental nonfiction--a memoir of 1/60th of one second. A sentence fragment about a fragment of life. A memoir of the time it takes to snap a photo.
"A Clothesline Meditation" (nonfiction), by Debra Burks Hori:
Debra Burks Hori's work has been published or is forthcoming in This I Believe, Crack the Spine, The Penmen Review, Silver Birch Press, and The Los Angeles Times Health Section. When her husband was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer, Debra wrote to comfort herself; she continues her writing to share our universal experience of grief. She is an Educational Therapist in private practice, a parent, and is owned by two cats.


Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Bacopa Literary Review 2016 Prize Winners

FIRST PRIZE

Fiction: Afia Atakora for "The Crooked Man"
Afia Atakora is currently earning her MFA at Columbia University. She lives in Avenel, New Jersey, where she is at work on a novel about a reconstruction-era midwife.
Poetry: Carolyne Wright for "Sestina: That Mouth..."
Carolyne Wright's most recent book is the anthology, Raising Lilly Ledbetter: Women Poets Occupy the Workspace (Lost Horse Press, 2015). This anthology is the recipient of ten Pushcart Prize nominations and is a finalist in The Foreword Review's Book of the Year Awards. Wright has nine other poetry volumes and five volumes of poetry in translation, and received a Pushcart Prize in 2010. Since 2005, when she returned to her native Seattle, she has taught for the Whidbey Writers Workshop MFA Program and for Richard Hugo House.
Nonfiction: Jessica Conoley for "I Am Descended From Giants"
Jessica Conoley was raised on 80's action films, Jem and the Holograms, X-Men, and big-brother-mandated Star Wars. Decades later she started writing fantasy novels, flash fiction, and essays. In 2012, she became the Managing Editor of Kansas City Voices arts and literary magazine. You can read samples of her work here.
RUNNER-UP

Fiction: Joseph Saling for "Eva"
Joe Saling's first book of poems, A Matter of Mind, is available from Foothills Publishing. His poetry and stories have appeared widely in such journals as The Raintown Review, The Formalist, The Amherst Review, and The Bacon Review. He lives in Atlanta with his wife Sandy and their dog Yeats. (The New Word Mechanic)
Poetry: Leslie Anne Mcilroy for "Big Bang"
Leslie Anne Mcilroy won the 1997 Slipstream Poetry Chapbook Prize for Gravel, the 2001 Word Press Poetry Prize for her full-length collection Rare Space, and the 1997 Chicago Literary Award. Her book, Liquid Like This, was published by Word Press in 2008 and Slag by Main Street Rag Publishing Company. Leslie's poems appear in Grist, Jubilat, The Mississippi Review, PANK, Pearl, Poetry Magazine, The New Ohio Review, The Chiron Review, and more. She is Managing Editor of HEArt -- Human Equity Through Art. Leslie works as a copywriter in Pittsburgh.
Nonfiction: Debra Burks Hori for "A Clothesline Meditation"
Debra Burks Hori's work has been published or is forthcoming in This I Believe, Crack the Spine, The Penmen Review, Silver Birch Press, and The Los Angeles Times Health Section. When her husband was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer, Debra wrote to comfort herself; she continues her writing to share our universal experience of grief. She is an Educational Therapist in private practice, a parent, and is owned by two cats.


Sunday, June 26, 2016

Bacopa Literary Review: "Dark Beyond Darkness"

(Condensed by Editor-in-Chief Mary Bast from Fiction Editor U.R. Bowie's full review here)

I'm ten years late getting around to reading Cormac McCarthy's The Road, but since it has to rank among the most powerful pieces of American fiction written in the past ten years, it remains more than worthy of discussion. McCarthy here tells a tale of nights dark beyond darkness and the days more gray each one than what had gone before.

We're in the genre of post-apocalyptic fiction -- it could have been a nuclear war -- The ashes of the late world carried on the bleak and temporal winds to and fro in the void. Apparently most animals are extinct, and the few human beings who survive face fellow humans who are, largely, living beastly lives. Here's what the world looks like when it's gone:
"He walked out in the gray light and stood and he saw for a brief moment the absolute truth of the world. The cold relentless circling of the intestate earth. Darkness implacable. The blind dogs of the sun in their running. The crushing black vacuum of the universe." 
Oddly enough, it is passages like these, what one critic called this violent grotesque world rendered in gorgeous, melancholic, even biblical cadences, that somehow save the reader from descending into total despair.

You don't have to read far into this book to realize that if something like this conflagration ever descends upon our world, the most fortunate of human beings will be those who die quickly. The world of The Road is a dead world. All the old rules by which people live their lives have been abrogated. A father and son wander through the devastation, on their way somewhere in search of survival. When they share some food with an old man they encounter on the road, he never thanks them. "Thank you" has gone out with the going out of the world. 
"You won't wish us luck either, will you?" says the father.

The old man replies, "I don't know what that would mean. What luck would look like. Who would know such a thing?"
We meet the mother of the boy and wife of the main protagonist only for one brief scene, but that scene is powerfully written, and it rings true. She tells her husband she is about to commit suicide, and she departs with no loving words for him, or for the universe.
"We're not survivors; we're the walking dead in a horror film. . . I didn't bring myself to this. I was brought. And now I'm done. . . My only hope is for eternal nothingness, and I hope it with all my heart."
She goes on to insist that surviving only for oneself is impossible:
"A person who had no one would be well advised to cobble together some passable ghost. Breathe it into being and coax it along with words of love."
The dire tragedy depicted here can also apply to the human condition in general. The wife's words about how, if one wishes to survive one needs someone to live for, are equally true of old men and women in our un-apocalyptic world who lose their spouses late in life. Cobbling together "some passable ghost" is exactly what bereaved spouses do when they spend time talking alone to their dead loved ones.

Then again, even if we never have to see the world end before our eyes, each of us must face the hurts and pains and losses of any life. We also must face the ending of our own personal worlds and, like the wife of the novel, we haven't brought ourselves to any of this -- we were brought.

There is no place left for a God in the crozzled hearts of The Road's characters. At the end, the father finally gives up his struggle to survive, tells his son to go on without him, and dies. Then, abruptly, God is back in the person of a "good guy," with two children and a wonderful wife, who ambles into the book and adopts the boy, saving him from a certain death.

In light of the bleak reality McCarthy has been describing for the first 280 pages of the book, I'm not sure what the author is up to with the unbelievable Deus ex machina ending. Is the appearance of the miraculous family in one of the boy's dreams, or that of his dying father?

McCarthy gives us nothing to suggest the scene is other than reality. With his consummate feel for the artistic integrity of the structure, he could not have believed he could get away with this ending. But since this ending is there, we can only look past the final six pages, and exult in the artistry of this brilliant book.


Sunday, June 19, 2016

On Father's Day: "Ten Thousand Miles from Home"

(by Poetry Editor Kaye Linden, from Bacopa Literary Review 2010)

Ten Thousand Miles from Home (Fiction)

After five years away from home, I return to my father's house in Sydney. He tells me he'll be back down in a few minutes, that my visit should have been last month, that now he doesn't have time for me. I nod, bite back tears.

Inside the confined space of the living room, air thick and heavy, I take five steps between two walls, six steps back, walk in circles, reverse the circles, slow down, speed up and hop on one leg until I notice my three kung fu swords stuffed under the staircase. One hangs without its scabbard on a bent nail, blade ready to dice and slice. My gut surges as I remember the black belt test my father refused to attend. "Martial arts are for men, not women," he'd said.

I hyperventilate through fifty jumping jacks.

My father's sword collection hangs high above the staircase. There's that one German sword, rusty with blood, a relic from World War Two. I always wondered where he'd picked that up.

I touch my toes twenty-five times.

I watch and wait, in spite of a racing pulse. There are those Persian carpets, threadbare, embedded with red stains -- reminders of violent words and alcoholic binges. Twilight falls like a shroud as I walk to the window, pull aside moldy curtains, view a blurred image of ghost gums through a pair of seldom-washed casement windows.

Antiques crowd the mahogany coffee table: a Roman warrior with wire whip riding a metal chariot, a faded black and white photo of Khartoum, a broken pottery shard found in a wartime excursion to the pyramids. Dreary paintings by dreary artists line the walls in a haphazard arrangement above china cabinets, above my father's swords, next to the staircase, wherever a few square feet beckon. A woman's dirty yellow slippers lie under a green corduroy love seat, a beat up pair of cracked, leather army boots stand on top of the cherry wood armoire. I clear old letters and newspapers from the cedar dining table and reel at dates from two years ago. Sweat rolls down my forehead as I wait for my father to return, but he doesn't. A wave of nausea rises up my throat, and I swallow the bitter taste of vomit. This time, I resolve, I'll never return.

I wait another half hour, sit at my old white desk with the inlaid world map, and punch my fist repeatedly on its dusty surface. I stand up to leave, but my eye rests on the book shelf, packed with books from poets and world historians. My fingers find my old, raggedy high-school text -- T.S. Eliot's The Wasteland, inscribed on the front page to my mother from my father. From somewhere upstairs I hear argument, loud and distinct, my name thrown around like a dog's ball.

"Ok, Dad. I get the message," I whisper.

I cross the cobblestone road to the neighborhood taxi stand and turn around to make sure no one follows.

"Airport, US airways."

"Right you are luv," the taxi driver chimes. "Where you headed?"

"Home," I say. I stare straight ahead and take a long swig from the bottle of whiskey that I swiped from my father's china cabinet.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Tips for Writing a Powerful Poetry Submission

by Poetry Editor Kaye Linden 

During my study of an MFA in poetry and the editing and perusal of Bacopa Literary Review’s 2016 poetry submissions, I have had the chance to witness repeated opportunities for strengthening a poem. I offer the following observations so poets might take advantage of my insights. Take what you like and leave the rest.

The first hook. Focus on a titillating title. Browse through the poem and find a riveting phrase, word or series of words that will capture the essence of the poem. As poetry editor, I am drawn to unusual, sometimes wordy titles that mimic the voice of the poet and reflect the theme of the poem. The title demonstrates the inventiveness of the poet.  

     For example: “Sleeping Unsafe at Camp Wilderness,” “Skipping over Rocks in the Dreamtime.” Consider the well-known poet Carolyne Wright’s title “Woman Blooming for the Wind Machine” or my crazy title “The Linear and Circular One Sentence of Tattoo Designs Over his Body”(published in Bacopa Literary Review 2015). 

     Don’t underestimate the power of a title. The creativity and writing of a title reflect that of the poem to follow. This goes for all genres. Review and examine titles of famous poets and understand how they chose them.

Stay away from the verb “to be” when possible, especially in a short poem. Poems lose power with excess use of “was, were, will, used to be, to be, would, would have, would have been” etc. Of course, exceptions to this rule exist but if the poet must use a “to be” verb, keep it to once and once only. I am amazed at the repetition of these and other unweighted, meaningless words in otherwise tight writing and they often appear in the first line, and repeated in the second and third. In a short piece, which most poem submissions lean towards, keep it tight, and, in a long piece, keep it tight as well!  Here's an example:
It was summer,
fields were seeded with sunflowers,
now blooming in the heat
of a day that was to be
an end to the beginning
of summer.
Avoid adverbs where possible. Too many adverbs weaken an otherwise powerful poem. Examine a way to rewrite the phrase or sentence without the adverb. Consider alternatives. Use an adverb only when necessary. 

The same can be said for adjectives. Use the thesaurus and write with creativity and limited adjectives. Avoid strings of adjectives. “Women stand naked in storms.” “Strong, sexy, powerful women stand totally naked in wild, windy, witchy storms.” Which offers the stronger sentence? Place this sentence in the context of a meaningful poem that enhances and supports the meaning of the sentence. Use adjectives that offer a fresh image. (See Elizabeth Bishop example below) 

Offer implication to the reader instead of telling the reader what you mean."He didn’t want to tell her how he felt.” “His eyes glazed over, shifted away from her stare.” 
  
Avoid those boring clichés and hackneyed phrases. “Ruby red lips” (Oh, please…) 

Use weighted words that offer an image, a meaning, impact or power to the poem. Each word counts. Use meaningful words. Take a look at a verse from Elizabeth Bishop’s “The Fish.”
the big bones and the little bones, 
the dramatic reds and blacks 
of his shiny entrails 
and the pink swim-bladder
like a big peony. 
…his eyes…larger than mine 
but shallower, and yellowed, 
the irises backed and packed 
with tarnished tinfoil 
seen through the lenses 
of old scratched isinglass.
Delight the Editor with a skillfully written fixed form poem that has meaningful substance and theme. Research the classic rules for pantoums, ghazal and sonnets, among others, and insert a theme from a different perspective. Stay away from mundane themes such as a walk in the park or a sailboat at sunset, unless that walk or sail takes on a philosophical bent that approaches from an unusual angle. Examine Shirley Geok-Lin Lim’s “Pantoum for Chinese Women”: 
They say a child with two mouths is no good. 
In the slippery wet, a hollow space,
Smooth, gumming, echoing wide for food. 
No wonder my man is not here at his place.

In the slippery wet, a hollow space,
A slit narrowly sheathed within its hood. 
No wonder my man is not here at his place
He is digging for the dragon jar of soot.
      Get your attention? 

Stay consistent with the point of view and tense. Stay away from “you.”  I have seen this repeated throughout a poem. After two or three repeated “you” pronouns I put down the poem and sigh. Choose an interesting point of view and whichever one you choose, stay with it. The same goes for tense consistency.

Happy submissions and remember, master the rules and then you can break them.

Resources:

Barnstone, Aliki, and Willis Barnstone. A Book of Women Poets from Antiquity to Now. N.p.: n.p., n.d. Print.

Finch, Annie, and Kathrine Varnes. An Exaltation of Forms: Contemporary Poets Celebrate the Diversityof Their Art. Ann Arbor: U of Michigan, 2002. Print.

Linden, Kaye. 35 Tips for Writing a Brilliant Flash Story. N.p.: Create Space, 2015. Print.