Bacopa Literary Review

Writers Alliance of Gainesville's international print journal in its 9th year -- 2017 cover by Dancing Ghost. For quality of work we seek, click on: Short Story, Poetry, Prose Poetry, Creative Nonfiction.

We welcome constructive comments from identified readers; not anonymous spam or slams.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Flash Fiction: Short and Tumultuous

By Editor in Chief Mary Bast
The lofty stance, the cosmic range, and the haunting music of Trakl's poetry now mark him, with Rilke, as perhaps the last great representative of what could be called the sublime tradition in German. Herbert Samuel Lindenberger, Georg Trakl
Our 2017 Flash Story Prize-winner Stephanie Emily Dickinson illuminates the short, tumultuous life of  Georg Trakl (1887-1914) in  Excerpts from the Trakl Diaries: A Collection of Tales (31: "Strangeress," 32: "The Snow," 33:"The Train," and 34: "Military Exercises" below). Her inspiration, George Trakl, protested "against the corrupt, fallen condition of humankind." To fully appreciate Dickinson's skill in creating new work while capturing the haunting music of Trakl's Expressionist poetry, click here for some of Trakl's poems, then read "Military Exercises," one of Dickinson's Collection of Tales available in Bacopa Literary Review 2017:
Military Exercises
1914. Heat has trapped itself. The light stays midmorning while we march through grass that rain has dampened. Linden trees around the parade ground throb with white scent. The grass blades lash themselves to my boots. My comrades chase not a ball but a soldier in pale goggles who kicks at a creature. The sky is the color of a giant spiked wheel breaking bodies as it rolls. The hardwoods hidden, spider webs embrace them. Back and forth we drill, a strophe that believes its steps have returned to the 4th grade where recess has begun. The bigger boys play. Each scrambles to pick up a stone or a stick. The animal that I took for a black cat is a rat, thin and elongated. Brownish black with a tail longer than its head and body, it blinks at the brightness with its poor eyes. My comrades are hoisting the culprit up and applying weights, they are setting the two forks, the prongs plunged into the flesh, against the neck. The tallest takes from his jacket pocket a wire contraption and baits it. I smell the sweetness of bacon. Red tort. Pig kidney flamed in rum. The rat tries to flee, pulling its strange cordy tail, skittering one way and then the other. The rat squeaks piteously and drags its little body. Nein, I say, drawing my service revolver. Nein. I will save the heretic. Give me the contraption, free the wire from the rat's neck. My comrades laugh, they clamor to swing the rat now that its blood is trickling through the air. Soon it will be August. War. The rat no longer claws the earth but kings it. Millions breed with the red slugs and frogs. Corpse rats. Millions of rat Robespierres to avenge, fewer rat Buddhas to forgive here under the lover's linden trees whose white perfume masks the executioner's sweat.

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Stephanie Dickinson was raised on an Iowa farm, graduated with an MFA from the University of Oregon, and now lives in New York City. Along with Rob Cook, she publishes and edits the literary journal Skidrow Penthouse, now in its 10th year. She has received multiple distinguished story citations in the Pushcart Anthology, Best American Short Stories, and Best American Mysteries. And we've previously posted about her The Emily Fables and Heat: An Interview with Jean Seberg.

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Sunday, April 1, 2018

On Storytelling

"Storytelling, you know, has a real function. The process of storytelling is itself a healing process, partly because you have someone there who is taking the time to tell you a story that has great meaning to them. They're taking the time to do this because your life could use some help, but they don't want to come over and just give advice. They want to give it to you in a form that becomes inseparable from your whole self. That's what stories do. Stories differ from advice in that, once you get them, they become a fabric of your whole soul. That is why they heal you."
Alice Walker, novelist, short story writer, poet, activist

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Diffusionist Writing: An Ungendered Genre

by Kaye Linden and Mary Bast

Bacopa Literary Review's 2018 editors have coined the term Diffusionism for writing that merges, blends, or removes the definitions from traditional genres. Next year we'll open this category and invite writers to mix up traditional genres, to write skewed or in shapes, with creativity, imagination, and clarity--meaningful writing with a powerful voice, offering readers a consistent evocation of justified emotion or imagery.

Examples of Diffusionist writing might include a creative nonfiction piece written in one long sentence, creative nonfiction or fiction written in lists, prose narratives with intermittent broken lines, or shaped prose that offers a concrete image or images on the page that support the writing's themes. Other examples might include a poem written backwards, or from right to left, bottom to top, or in a series of boxes.

As always, we'll seek great writing and originality, our main criterion for success the voice of the piece and its impact on readers.

Where did the term Diffusionism come from?

While creating a lecture on diffusion, Kaye--a Registered Nurse--considered the comparisons between physiological diffusion and writing across genres. In the simplest of chemical terms, "diffusion" is the movement of molecules from a higher to a lower concentration, a scattering of particles across borders. While researching further, Kaye came across the term applied to the diffusion of cultural ideas across geographic borders.

Mary added that the word's original meaning was from the Latin diffundere (pouring out), and in general refers to the spreading of something more widely. Of two particularly relevant definitions, one refers to "the action of spreading light evenly from its source to reduce glare and harsh shadows," the other to "intermingling of substances by the natural movement of their particles."

We apply this concept to the intermingling of genres and genders, driven not by low or high concentrations, but by natural movement from creative energies:
Reducing the "shadows," expanding the light.
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Tuesday, March 6, 2018

How to Motivate Better Writing

Bacopa Literary Review Editor in Chief Mary Bast

How many times have you walked away from a writer's critique group feeling dismayed and demotivated? The kindest among us will be less heavy-handed with a new writer, but even the best writers are not so confident they can handle hearing their "baby" is ugly. No matter how positive our intentions, if people leave a critique feeling deflated, it's not working. And this happens far too often.

Remember your first spelling test? Did the teacher circle all the correct answers in red? No. We've been taught from an early age to focus on what's wrong. The best teachers and parents try to correct behavior in a loving way because they know it's hurtful to a child to be constantly criticized. But the operant word is still correct. When dealing with adults, our drive to address problems, set targets, and work to accomplish them has created a culture of problem-centered improvement, where feedback is focused on what's not working well.

By pointing out what needs to be corrected in others' work, we may unintentionally create the "Golem Effect," borrowed from Jewish folklore about a creature meant to protect Prague that instead destroyed the city. When a group engages the Golem Effect, efforts to improve writing will demolish motivation.

We can invite the "Pygmalion Effect" instead, where positive expectations influence performance positively. This approach was named after an ancient sculptor who fell in love with a female figure he'd created from ivory. When he kissed the statue, she came to life. Our goal in critique groups is to help each other become better writers, and our positive approach to critique is the "kiss" that brings each other's work to life.

This applies to all critiques, anywhere, all the time.

Critique Guidelines

Read the work carefully before writing comments.
  • get to know the author's voice and style
  • develop a general feel before noting specifics
  • approach the work on its own terms, not the way you would write it
Write comments in third person; address the work, not the author.

Call attention to punctuation/spelling only if certain errors predominate. Instead of offering a re-write or copy-edit, trust the author to learn from the comments and decide what to change, or not change.

Let the author know what's strong in the work. Though hearing what you "love" or think is "terrific" may feel good, those general comments don't improve someone's writing. Point out specific strengths, with examples, in several of these areas:
  • theme, form, structure
  • plot, setting, scene, suspense, conflict
  • point of view, character depth
  • diction, dialogue, exposition, narration, tense consistency
  • alliteration, assonance, consonance, cohesion
  • figures of speech, word choices, metaphors, similes, imagery
  • style, voice, rhyme, rhythm, pacing
  • line breaks, stanzas
Then offer A FEW specific and nonjudgmental suggestions to improve the work. Saying what's "wrong" or what needs "correcting" will tend to raise defenses. Instead, focus the author's attention on how the work could be better written. Think in terms of possibilities--ask yourself  "What would be the solution to this perceived problem?" For example:
  • Instead of "You've used this phrase too often," try "I see this phrase several times in this piece; it could have more impact if used only on page 4."
  • Instead of "This is too general," try "More concrete details here would increase the work's somber mood."
  • Instead of "This is a cliche," try "A fresher word would grab attention here, such as (example from author's work).
  • Instead of "This paragraph is confusing," try "This paragraph could show more clearly who is speaking."
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Wednesday, February 28, 2018

The Short Story, Fifteen Hundred Words or Fewer

by Short Story Editor Kaye Linden

For this submission period, we are requesting stories of under fifteen hundred words. What am I looking for in the shorter submission? Here are some suggestions that will catch this editor's eye:

1. Make every word count. Examine the writing for excess adverbs and adjectives. For example, consider the following two sentences that say the same thing with different words:
"The bigger dog really likes the little dog.
"The Labrador plays tug-of-war with the chihuahua." 
2. Use active voice construction over a passive voice to employ clean, smooth writing and reading. For example:
"My article was published by Time Magazine."
"Time Magazine published my article."
3. Maintain balance and pacing. Sentence length, comma position and verb constructions will affect the overall rhythm or pacing of a piece of writing. Pay attention to each and how they sound when read aloud.

4. Story structure: stories demonstrate action, consequence and change via conflict. These elements give a story its structural arc. Otherwise, we are writing an anecdote or tale. Something must happen to someone or something. These elements apply to the short story and the very short story, whether plot or character driven, and even when under fifteen hundred words.

5. Keep point of view and tense consistent. Unless stating a truism, if you start the story in present tense, keep it there. If the story is from the narrator's point of view, stay in the narrator's point of view.

6. Dialogue works well in a short story but keep the "tags" to a minimum unless there are more than two people. Simple tags like "he said" or "she said" or "they said" for transgender stories, work better than "She screamed loudly." If the dialogue is short, one tag might be enough. For example:
She held his glance. "I thought you knew."
"I had no idea. When did it happen?"
"Last night. The tree fell on their bedroom."
He looked down at the floor. "I can't believe their bad luck."
7. Demonstrate through action. Instead of "She felt terrible," consider "She paced around the room, touching each of its four corners with trembling fingers."

8.Stories aren't just about entertainment. Writing is an art. Art offers the truth as the artist sees it. Significant truths are shared through short stories and the world is often made better because a writer has shared his or her world view.

9. You can break the rules in experimental work. As short story editor I am fine with someone breaking the above rules; however (yes, there is a caveat), be certain the narrator's voice shines through the narrative. I respond with excitement more to a writer's voice than to any other element.

10. Voice results from language and style choices. Excellence in writing relates in great part to the writer's voice.

Resources:

What is Voice? by Kaye Linden
35 Tips for Writing a Brilliant Flash Story, by Kaye Linden

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Monday, February 19, 2018

Blazing Trails: Emotional Subtext

by Editor in Chief Mary Bast
All writers are familiar with the adage "show, don't tell," but showing isn't necessarily based on action. "... a state of being can be presented without emotions and, despite that, cause us to feel quite a bit," says Donald Maass in The Emotional Craft of Fiction.

In Bacopa Literary Review 2017's Fiction Prize winning story Ignis Fatuus, and More, at Eleven, Chad W. Lutz alludes to a deeper emotional subtext, starting with the title itself: Ignis fatuus means something deluding or misleading.

The overt text presents Joan Conte, morning anchor at Fox19 News Now, reporting that Dubai's 2,716.5 ft. tall Burj Khalifa has appeared overnight at Linn Street and Sycamore in Downtown Cincinnati.

This fantastic event provides a framework for the author's subtext  illuminating the boundaries of a white-male-privileged social system. For example, after five years of promises, anchor Conte has finally been given time that morning to present her deeply researched feature on race relations. The station's money-hungry executives now want to displace her feature with ongoing coverage of the Burj Khalifa. Lead member of "The Brass," James McAvel, tells her condescendingly, "It's excellent journalism, just not the story that needs to be told right now," then not-so-subtly threatens the loss of Conte's job if she doesn't agree: "Going through a divorce can be tough, Miss Conte, especially when there are kids involved."

More subtle is the subtext of systemic discrimination against Abby, the twenty-something, gender-neutral, bespectacled intern whose introduction to Joan Conte includes the explanation "My pronouns are They/Them/Their."

With Lutz's story, Bacopa Literary Review has for the first time published work with "they" as a gender-fluid pronoun. We note The Associated Press Stylebook, "arguably the foremost arbiter of grammar and word choice in journalism, has added an entry for 'they' as a singular, gender-neutral pronoun in its latest edition."

According to Steph Shangraw in LGBT Fiction, the challenge of gender-neutral pronouns "creates a serious dilemma for an author of narrative fiction who wants to be inclusive and respectful," because readers jolted out of the flow will have more trouble losing themselves in the story. Yet, it's also the author's job "to blaze trails and set examples... That's the power and responsibility that come with storytelling."

So how does a writer introduce gender-neutral pronouns in a way that doesn't jolt readers out of the flow? The Associated Press Stylebook suggests "If they/them/their use is essential, explain in the text that the person prefers a gender-neutral pronoun." This is what Lutz has done in Abby's introduction to Joan Conte. In spite of that clarity, some readers will be confused by the pronouns that follow:
[Abby] ... waited for a reaction, any reaction; waited and waited and waited and then... thinking that both the woman on stage in front of them and the reasons they'd deluded themselves to coming back for another day of this going-nowhere internship, well, they were both f-----d."  
Not only is it the responsibility of authors to blaze trails, it's our responsibility as educated readers to develop enough flexibility to accommodate gender-fluid writing.

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Author Chad W. Lutz also identifies as they/them/their. Currently enrolled at Mills College in Oakland, California, and working toward an MFA in Creative Writing (Fiction), their publications include The Chaos Journal, Peeking Cat Poetry Magazine, Fish Food, Gravel, Jellyfish Whispers, Diverse Voices Quarterly, Jazz Cigarette, and Route 7 Review.

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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