Bacopa Literary Review

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.)