Bacopa Literary Review

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

To Be Quietly Mad

By Editor in Chief Mary Bast

Paddy Reid
It's the rare person who's immune to a well-told Irish story, and many of us have been trained to expect the quality of voice found in Frank McCourt's Angela's Ashes.

Creative Nonfiction Editor Susie Baxter found this voice immediately in Paddy Reid's work. To know this author, however, is to go far beyond his ability as a writer and storyteller.

A passionate advocate for causes he believes in, a community worker who counsels and teaches literacy and memoir writing in the inner city of Dublin, Reid made it clear from the beginning that if he won a money award for his contribution to Bacopa Literary Review, that award should be distributed locally to people in need.

As the son of a so-called "deserter" who grew up an outcast in Ireland, this author's particular crusade has been to show the effects of Irish communities shunning their men who joined the British army to fight Germany in World War II, while the Irish army stayed neutral. Reid's father and others like him could not find work after the war and struggled to feed their families. Eventually these men were fully pardoned and their unfair, unwarranted treatment deplored, but not until after his father's death.

Reid's story, "Starvation," awarded Honorable Mention in our 2017 collection, begins with a quote that captures the quality of life for Rosie Flanagan, whose husband Kevin has been blacklisted for years by Irish employers and his British Army pension recently cut off:
You can be mad without screaming or ranting or raving. You can be quietly mad. Mad without banging your head off the wall. You can be sitting in a room, listening to the doctor, nodding your head when you're supposed to.
Rosie stood in the dim hallway, waiting her turn to see the doctor. She hated the old Portside Dispensary, with its cold rooms and heavy smells... The black mold growing in the corner...   
     I'm afraid I'll hurt the children.
     She wanted to say it again, but had caught herself in time. If the doctor lost patience with her he could have her committed to the madhouse. It had been done before to women in the docklands who suffered with their nerves. Don't give him any excuse to put you away, Rosie... Three months ago, she had stood before a rubbish chute on the top balcony of Liberty Row. Her, just staring at the tip handle for ages, holding the sleeping baby to her chest with one arm. She jerked open the handle. From here it would fall forty feet into a collection area. Just a few seconds and it would be over. She leaned forward to drop it down the sloping chute. As she did so, the smell of rotten fish hit her like a physical blow.
     No. She pulled back, gripping the child tightly....
This is real, this is riveting, and you won't want to miss the rest of Rosie Flanagan's story in Bacopa Literary Review 2017.
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Paddy Reid lived in the US for more than a decade and published memoir and short stories in literary journals such as Connecticut Review, Sou'wester, and Primavera. He received the Anton Chekhov Award for Short Story from The Crescent Review in 1996, and won First Prize in  Factual Memories in the competition and collection, Original Writing from Ireland's Own.

Saturday, January 27, 2018

Call Me Sisyphus: A Dream of Creative Nonfiction

by Editor in Chief Mary Bast

We've celebrated the unique talent of Charlotte M. Porter before, applauding her imaginative use of language in writing that "sweeps enthusiastically through poetry, creative nonfiction, flash fiction, fiction," with examples from her poetry and fiction.

In this post we bring you Porter's Flash Story Honorable Mention for a creative nonfiction piece that will rearrange your ideas about dreams. Notice Porter's unique voice and poetic near-rhymes in the first paragraphs of "Terminal Trance":
Disguised as moderns, poets Homer and Dante duped me with a junket to the Netherworld, an alumni reunion in Hades. I arrive, revive, await Homer in hip hop, Dante in high tops. What a gas! But no. My escorts are grim, thin as shadows.
One is my handsome brother Michael. The other, a former beau always late, a pretty fellow I'll call JoJo. Both lacking likeness to album photos seem taller in black manteaux, their eyes dull cupped candles of souls departed.
In dark dress, too, mine with hood, I lug two drab duffel bags, which a person my size has to slide on well-traveled floors.
Sorry, camp gear, says Michael, younger brother lost to cancer, too tired to lift--he the college batboy with metal plates in his arm, magnets for true North, our family joke, now rusty under skin so grey.
Through her dream travels, she loses and finds and loses her brother:
Call me Sisyphus, but you try pushing duffels across raft of air-filled mattresses. I falter, and Michael disappears. Has JoJo pulled him between creases of my visual field?
Was JoJo always after Michael, not me?
Through sheer will, I bring my brother back, for an instant in existence. His black coat stands grand against the milling crowd. I blink. He's gone--too big for me to see. Or too fleet like river flux or flame on silk.
                                                   Jojo and his yoyo coins evaporate. He, always beyond my ilk, the darling thief dream released through ivory and horn to steal sweet kisses. If this is closure, must I wake?
In what has become an elegy to her brother, our clever prize winner uses travel gear as a telling metaphor in her final paragraph:
A cur guards Hades, but my trusty dogs fail to keep the dead in place as I tarry on the Styx, ferry my stone-cold brother without toll for those duffels--his luggage, my baggage.
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For more about flash nonfiction:
Our own Kaye Linden, author of 35 Tips for Writing A Brilliant Flash Story, describes what she's looking for in Bacopa Literary Review 2018's Short Story genre, with an example of her own flash memoir in "How Can a Mother?"
Beth Ann Fennelly offers suggestions for crafting excellent flash nonfiction in "Making much of the moment," suggesting the best micro-memoir combines "the extreme abbreviation of poetry, the narrative tension of fiction, and the truth-telling of creative nonfiction. . . ." As examples Fennelly cites Anne Carson's Short Talks, J. Robert Lennon's Pieces for the Left Hand, Sarah Manguso's 300 Arguments, and James Richardson's Vectors

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Life's Unexpected Bits of Sweetness

by Editor in Chief Mary Bast

Anyone who's been a long-time caregiver has experienced the mixed emotions inherent in that role. Having cared for my mother the final sixteen years of her long life, I know the quiet tug between strength and fatigue, compassion and anger, willingness and rebellion. So it was my personal and professional pleasure to support Editor Susie H. Baxter's 2017 Creative Nonfiction Prize award to Raphel Helena Kosek for Caregiver's Journal: How to Survive, or Not.

Kosek wrote so movingly, in fact, we also nominated her piece for a Pushcart Prize.

Described by the author as "one of the most honest and heartfelt pieces I've ever written," Kosek's three-part essay begins, "The Caregiver Addresses Herself at a Distance:"
The night path so often covered between your mother's house and yours falls like reprieve, like freedom, when you are able to leave her--pajamaed and ready for bed--return to your own world. . . Never in all your sixty-one years have you counted the air so sweetly. . . the next step, next breath, next page, word, desire, longing, gratitude--a swell rising like the tide, sand unresisting sweeping you along the sea of night where you are washed from your mother's bitterness. . . .  
Then "Taking Stock:"
. . . my mother slowly heading towards immobility next door in her house where the rituals of dressing and undressing, mollifying and tolerating, are endlessly repeated. . . No happy burden here. Age knocking at my door, I am still the rebellious teenager inside questioning, how did this happen to me? I want to take drugs, sleep too long, head into the woods. I don't do any of that. . . I am a monk in my skin. . . Aware of life's unexpected bits of sweetness, I hoard them like jewels. . . .
And in the final section, "Barking Dog in the Night:"
Stranded on the island of night, I try to navigate to the next minute, next moment. A neighbor's dog is barking but without urgency. . . He has been left out or let outside. . . My husband, more tired than I, has gone to bed. . . Now the dog and I are left to contemplate the vast universe that steams and dreams around us. . . If I try hard enough, I might arrive at some profound thought, but like the dog, feel no urgency to do so. Restless, I send some tentative feelers out--my bark to verify my existence. . . .
You'll find Kosek's eloquent, prize-winning piece in its entirety 

For more about Raphael Helena Kosek:
Q & A with Eastern Iowa Review
Showcased Writer at Silk Road Review
Rough Grace (poems), 2014 Winner, Concrete Wolf Chapbook Competition