Bacopa Literary Review

Writers Alliance of Gainesville's international journal in its 8th year
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For examples of work we seek--follow, connect, read below, or click: flash story, poetry, fiction, nonfiction

Sunday, April 30, 2017

A Voice That Sirens Our Souls

By Bacopa Literary Review Editor in Chief Mary Bast

We've raved before about Stephanie Emily Dickinson's work, with a sample story from her lyrically charged chapbook, Heat: An Interview with Jean Seberg. In response to Dickinson's latest work, Bacopa Flash Story Editor Kaye Linden says "The amazing skill in Stephanie's use of language is that we don't even realize her voice has sirened our souls."

Below are comments from the back cover of Dickinson's The Emily Fables:
Stephanie Dickinson's homage to her grandmother and the lost world she inhabited . . . These beautiful, strange "fables" can read at times almost like scenes from Grimms' fairy tales yet are very American and barely a century gone. Catherine Sasanov.  

Her works are all about the lucid, arresting turns of phrase that make language as surprising and re-readable as it should be. Chila Woychik, essayist and editor of Eastern Iowa Review

Sometimes we feel it is a spirit that lives within the narrator, a dybuk, that shares her mind, strums her emotions with its willful dissonances. Rosemary De Angelis, Director, New York Drama Desk, Award Winning Actress
With permission, here is "Emily and the Ewes" from The Emily Fables:
1887. Someone left me in the orchard, my father said, and since it was January when they waded through the new snow beneath the apple tree, the one that had always favored us with red fruit, their boot prints iced solid. My father was carrying water to the old ewes, whose tarpaper shed leaned against the gnarled tree. Its branches that in spring would blossom blush-pink, with each petal seeping a filthy sweetness, had stiffened, bare-knuckled. It was below zero when my father spied a black-haired baby--such a full head of hair, coiled as if the fleece of a dark sheep. I would have frozen, had not the old ewes crouched next to me, one on either side, their names Libbie and Esther, their pink eyes dimming as if cherries slowly sinking in cream. "Ladies, what have you there?" he'd asked. The old ewes could not answer in his tongue for they lived in time that had already passed. They'd gotten on their knees, their blackened legs under them, one on either side, like a hot tickling breeze. I clung to the long straggling fleece. The ewes' wool was scented with bark, fierce wind, and damp earth soaked in the cider of a thousand apples dying. I shivered when my father plucked me up for I wore not even a rag. The snow had begun again, thick drops that felt like edges of burlap. A snow that pricked. When he carried me into the kitchen, my mother mistook me for an animal he'd skinned and brought home for dinner. "Shall we keep her? Or let Libbie and Esther bring her up?" And then my father would throw back his head and laugh for I was his favorite, it was only a story to tease me with. I had been born from my mother's body like my brothers. I would always love the ewes, as if they alone knew the truth of me. My mother once asked what side of the family had given me my terrible hair. Like an Ethiopian's or a sheep's. No relative had such kinkiness. In Sunday school, the girls poked fun. I thought of the ewes sharing with me visions of the apple tree, the slow seep of minutes, the strange roots hauling up water. Worm rot drawing the wasps. My husband-to-be said that God had given me the most beautiful hair and he would die if I cut it, then closed the window shade like flypaper the first time I let it down. After my third child I began to dream of that place between two sheep. And I hugged the ewes' bedraggled heads. Their offspring had been taken and meals made of them. Still the ancient mothers did not call down a pox upon our house or plagues of locust and toads. In my sleep the frozen sky's no color at all. The trees clatter. We eat the snow apples. The ewes' broken teeth hold the fruit. They bah. I am their January lamb.

Stephanie Dickinson was raised on an Iowa farm and now lives in New York City. She graduated with an MFA from the University of Oregon. Her work appears in Hotel Amerika, Mudfish, Weber Studies, Fjords, Water-Stone Review, Gargoyle, and Rhino, among others. Heat: An interview with Jean Seberg is available from New Michigan Press. Her novel Half Girl and novella Lust Series are published by Spuyten Duyvil, as is Love Highway, based on the 2006 Jennifer Moore murder. Her work has received multiple distinguished story citations in the Pushcart Anthology, Best American Short Stories, and Best American Mysteries.

Other links to Dickinson's work: Eastern Iowa Review:"Emily Overhears a Mourner," "Emily and the Spring Cleaning," Emily and the Mother-in-Law." Kestrel: "Emily and the Whooping Cough," "Emily and the Norsemen," "Emily and the Missionary," Emily and the Blizzard." Verse Daily: "Emily and the Bobcat." Penduline Press Interview with Stephanie Dickinson; Gravel: "Chicago Insomnia."

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Cleave Poetry

By Editor in Chief Mary Bast

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

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

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

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

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Misremembering Chekhov

by Editor in Chief Mary Bast

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

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

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

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

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

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