Friday, March 27, 2020

Hermit Crab Essay: One Story in the Shell of Another

By Bacopa Literary Review Senior Editor Mary Bast
"A hermit crab is a strange animal, born without the armor to protect its soft, exposed abdomen. And so it spends its life occupying the empty, often beautiful, shells left behind by snails or other mollusks. It reanimates these shells, making of them a strange, new hybrid creature . . . we've dubbed a particular form . . . the hermit crab essay, [which] appropriates other forms as an outer covering, to protect its soft, vulnerable underbelly." (Tell It Slant: Writing and Shaping Creative Nonfiction, Brenda Miller and Suzanne Paola, p. 111)
Miller and Paola demonstrate this hybrid form with Lorrie Moore's "How to Become a Writer" (from her collection Self Help), a personal account told in the style of a "how-to" column. 

Similarly, 2019 Creative Nonfiction contributor Perry P. Perkins' "No,You Don't Understand" begins as an opinion piece: 
It seems like every day I see some new politician or news personality or celebrity talk-show host discussing a recent eye-opening, life-changing experience of living for a month on a 'Food Stamp Challenge,' the simulated grocery budget of a family on food stamps.
     Invariably, when the receipts are tallied at the end of the month and the last journal entry or blog post is made, the summation of the experience begins with a heartfelt "I never understood before . . ."
Perkins then bridges to his personal story by assuring the reader "I appreciate the desire to help and the compassion or empathy or social awareness . . . that comes along with this experiment." Very quickly, though, the frustration and anger of his own experience begins to illuminate the shell of an opinion piece about understanding poverty:
     Don't think that you can load up a couple of bags of cheap groceries in the back of your Outback, cruise on home to your nice house in the 'burbs, fix dinner in your modern kitchen . . . and know what it's like to be poor . . .
      Until then, all you've done is shopped like us.
     Until you have carried those groceries home a hundred times through two bus transfers and walked eight blocks through a rainstorm past the drug deal in the parking lot and up two flight of stairs to an apartment that may have had the electricity turned off . . .
      Until then, you don't understand. . .
The author continues sharing his personal experience within the shell of an opinion piece, repetitively drumming the refrain, "Until then, you don't understand," and ending with advice that will strike at the heart of every one of us now living with the uncertainties of the Covid-19 pandemic, many of whom will be suffering the fate of Perkins' childhood:
    Volunteer at a food bank, contact a local ministry or non-profit, and be part of an outreach program. Give to local charities, become a constant, burning, unyielding, pain-in-the-ass advocate to your local politicians and decision makers. And God bless those of you who do these things.
     If, however, you really want to know what it's like to be poor, so you've "been there, done that," do me a favor . .. do it for a year, or five, or ten . . .in my old neighborhood, on foot, in the cold and dark, with your children.
     Until then, no . . . you don't understand.
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Perry T. Perkins is a writer, columnist, and professional blogger who's been published in magazines from Guideposts and Writer's Digest to Bass Master and Bible Advocate. His work has been included in 16 Chicken Soup anthologies, and he writes a monthly column, "Renaissance Dad," for Vancouver Family Magazine.

Only four more days until submissions open 
for Bacopa Literary Review 2020!
Maybe you'll win the $300 First Prize or $100 Second Prize
in one of our five genres!

Thursday, March 19, 2020

Questioning Your Own Reality

 By Bacopa Literary Review Senior Editor Mary Bast
Gaslighting is a pattern of manipulation tactics used by abusers, narcissists, dictators, and cult leaders to gain control over a person or people. The goal is to make the victim or victims question their own reality and depend on the gaslighter. "Are Gaslighters Aware of What They Do?" by Stephanie A. Sarkis, PhD, Psychology Today, January 30, 2017.
Much is being said these days about political gaslighting, conversations about "fake" news, twisting of details meant to make us question our understanding of reality. And now--in the wake of COVID-19--a dawning awareness that the world as we knew it has dramatically changed, yet still thinking to some degree "This can't be happening." Even when we admit the awful truth, denial defends us as we engage in escapist strategies to help us cope.

Perhaps now is the time to better understand the nature of gaslighting in childhood, experiencing--beyond the words of 2019 Creative Nonfiction contributor River Kozhar--the horror of a tortured existence where everyone outside the family wants to believe "This can't be happening." 
 "When My Cat Died"
River Kozhar

When my mother gaslit me as a child, telling me over and over that what I was experiencing wasn't bad enough to be traumatic, I began to feel that what I was saying didn't actually reflect the horror of my childhood . . .      
     They were serial killers, but no one seemed to have the slightest idea that was the case. Guests would come and tell me how wonderful they were. They couldn't see the burn marks . . . the scars . . . never heard the words . . . whispered into the quiet corners of my life like poisonous wraiths until I forgot where they originated . . .  
     Children's Aid came once, when my parents were not so careful, but they left me there . . . dismissing it as a one-time thing. It was, however, shortly thereafter that I received a gift from my parents--two kittens . . .
     That nightmare was a dungeon in some abyss of the world, a hall of narrow cells always damp with blood or tears . . . and it did not take my life for two reasons: I had a vague recollection of love from my early years and had glimpsed goodness in people from the outside world, both of which gave me impossible hope; and I had two neighbours in the cells next to mine . . .
     They became my kin as well as my cellmates, but they were not human. Like some Tarzan of the feline world, I was raised by cats . . . slowly learned their language and their culture . . . learned to track scents on the wind, to walk in a circle before I curled up to sleep . .  how to snarl like a jaguar, how to wake to the particular meow that that meant someone had brought back a kill, how to purr, how to say I love you . . . 
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River Kozhar has published prose and poetry in 15+ literary magazines and is seeking an agent for her second novel, a diverse NA/YA fantasy romance. Her nonfiction (under this nom-de-plume) has also appeared in the Deaf Poets Society. She lives in Kingston, Ontario, Canada.

(Read the rest of River Kozhar's "When My Cat Died" (pp. 96-100), plus
more Creative Nonfiction, Poetry, Mixed Genre, Fiction, and Haiku
in Bacopa Literary Review 2019, Print Edition or Digital Format)

Friday, March 13, 2020

Everything About Today is Violet

by Bacopa Literary Review Senior Editor Mary Bast

Today the US President has declared a National Emergency, and we are reminded of our connection to all living beings, beginning with the animals we slay and eat and from which COVID-19 leapt across species, stretching to our fellow human beings around the globe during a time of shared crisis.

We are reminded that those of us who lead relatively safe lives too easily forget the frightening conditions experienced by many, many others, until we also are frightened.

And so it seems the time to bring forth "Everything About Today is Violet" by Bacopa 2019 contributor Ojo Taiye, from Nigeria.
Everything About Today is Violet
Ojo Taiye 
~~
everyone i love is dead. & a field of charred bones flaking off the low Bogoro veldts is enough to say there is a giant girl in my belly craving salt-fish. i dial a number but cannot speak. today a boy curls a soft query over the lobes of my ears: do you write poems that speak to troubled teens? & i alphabetize my grief by country of origin, Borno comes first. yesterday is one place to bury two million undocumented displaced children & what you say after. i am the grand-daughter of a butcher: my mother comes from a long line of turban boys who sing jihad of evolution & teddy boys, a scar roves through my skin & the spark smells like a hemorrhage of bodies raised alongside us as nations. a pool of sorrows asking for exits: how we all want to rinse ourselves of last night's fire only to sink to the lower decks of summer's spare room of loneliness. my mouth is too dry to translate this search for words & words & words--a bowl of howls every time i cut garlic for happiness like a doorknob in a hallway that doesn't exist.
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Ojo Taiye is a young Nigerian who uses poetry to hide his frustration with society. His poems and works have appeared in Rattle, Frontier Poetry, Palette, The Stinging Fly, Notre Dame Review, Vallum, Crannog, Argot, Brittle Paper, Glass Journal, Elsewhere, Eunoia Review, Lit Mag, Juke, Praxis Magazine, and elsewhere.

Tuesday, March 10, 2020

Killer Words: "Admirable Men"

by Bacopa Literary Review Senior Editor Mary Bast
The U.S. government introduced the Kudzu vine into the ecosystem in the 1930s to prevent soil erosion . . . instead . . . Kudzu chokes trees and plants that it grows near, climbs buildings, and destroys foundations. ("Killer Words," in 12 Thought Provoking Examples of Irony in History, Literary Devices: Definition and Examples of Literary Terms)
We're all familiar with the notion of irony. A particular version is situational irony, which occurs when there's "a twist that plays with the expectations of the audience."

When I first read J. Nishida's 2019 poetry submission, "Pantoum: Admirable Men," I noted to Poetry Editor J.N. Fishhawk that "simply reading it to myself created a deep shock."

Fishhawk responded, "And indeed, when Nishida reads it live from the Civic Media Center stage, the power is intense--shock, anger, grief, it all comes through . . . putting that power and feeling into such a strict formal piece--quite an accomplishment."

Nishida's perfect presentation of the pantoum poetic form* makes "Admirable Men" a notable example of situational irony--line after line begins with "he said... he said... he said..." and the title leads us to expect.the rest of each line will laud achievements of a particular admirable man. Instead we are challenged, line by line, with killer** words:

Pantoum: Admirable Men
J. Nishida
he said, if there are many, shattering one is an act of artistic discovery, not destruction
he said, if she'd only tell him the truth, he could truly love her, possess her
he said, she's too naive, too simplistic; he explained, the vomit rising in her throat is not valid
he said, the slaying of his finest herds was an act of selfless penance
he said, if she'd only tell him the truth, he could truly love her, possess her
he said, in personal growth to strength, one must not fear the act of destruction
he said, the slaying of his finest herds was an act of selfless penance
he said, blondes make the best victims

he said, in personal growth to strength, one must not fear the act of destruction
he said, it was her face that launched a thousand ships and burnt the city's towers
he said, blondes make the best victims
he said, the achievement of military objectives justifies collateral damage

he said, it was her face that launched a thousand ships and burnt the city's towers
he said, were he to come back as woman, she must have beauty to have value
he said, the achievement of military objectives justifies collateral damage
he said, he burned them without even looking, he deemed stupidity love for a woman

he said, were he to come back as woman, she must have beauty to have value
he said, he'd win his wager by show of her obedience
he said, he burned them without even looking; he deemed stupidity love for a woman
he said, don't you think it's worth it? Their suffering, for human advancement?

he said, he'd win his wager by show of her obedience
he said, only the shallow take her slaying literally, the deep see empowering symbolism
he said, don't you think it's worth it? Their suffering, for human advancement?
he said, do not permit her to preach, to teach; she must cover up her head

he said, only the shallow take her slaying literally; the deep see empowering symbolism
he said, she's too naive, too simplistic; he explained, the vomit rising in her throat is not valid
he said, do not permit her to preach, to teach; she must cover up her head
he said, if there are many, shattering one is an act of artistic discovery, not destruction
*Four-line stanzas, the second and fourth lines becoming the first and third lines of the next stanza, and often the first line becomes the last.

**Synonyms for killer: hunter, slayer, assassin, butcher, slaughterer, executioner, exterminator, cut-throat, gunman, hitman, murderer. 

 *    *   *
J. Nishida came to Gainesville in 1989 and has yet to escape. She's been a student of science, education,. language, linguistics, and literature, working variously as a teacher, library story lady, mom, and with non-profits supporting arts and education. Sometimes host of Gainesville's Thursday PoJam.

(Read more Poetry, Mixed Genre, Fiction, Haiku, and Creative Nonfiction works
in Bacopa Literary Review 2019, Print Edition or Digital Format)

Thursday, March 5, 2020

Too Many Promises

by Bacopa Literary Review Senior Editor Mary Bast
3-year Alan Kurdi, 2 September 2015

In an earlier post devoted to mixed genre, Kaye Linden and I described this form as a powerful voice that evokes emotion or imagery in writing that merges, blends, or removes the definitions from traditional genres.

Our 2019 Honorable Mention prize in Mixed Genre went to CB Follett's "Photograph of a Very Young Boy," a perfect example of work that crosses traditional boundaries, offering many layers of story in only 94 heartrending words:
CB Follett, 2010-2013 Marin County Poet Laureate, multiple Pushcart Prize nominee, recipient of many awards and prizes--including a Marin Arts Council Grant for Poetry--and author of 11 poetry books and several chapbooks, was editor/publisher of Arctos Press for 25 years and co-editor/publisher of RUNES: A Review of Poetry. (See also A Cry Breaks the Silence" in Canary: A Literary Journal of the Environmental Crisis.)

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(Read more Mixed Genre, Fiction, Haiku, Poetry, and Creative Nonfiction works
in Bacopa Literary Review 2019, Print Edition or Digital Format)

Sunday, March 1, 2020

No Way I can SHRINK my Story into 100 Words!

By Bacopa Literary Review Short-Short Fiction editor Kaye Linden

Cutting a 1000 or 750-word story to 100 words is a lesson in bare bones writing. Why shrink a story down to its essential storyline?

The process offers significant awareness in the art and process of discovery. When honing a story to its foundation, writers will not only realize the essential storyline of a longer work, but might find infractions of other story elements; for example, inconsistencies in point of view (whose story is it?), benefits of past versus present tense, overuse of to be verbs, excessive dialogue or screaming dialogue tags, and the use of too many characters or their names. If a story appears awkward, rambling, disappointing, confusing, or needs rewriting, then shrinking is the way to go. (PS: this works for novels, as well!)

The first step in this process, of course, is to write the initial story without judgment or editing. This uncensored experience of rambling might intimidate new writers and challenge the experienced to allow wordiness.

In the second step of the process, the writer cuts the story from 750 words to 250 words, then reads the 250-word version to others to hear where the story might benefit from a rewrite. In my class, students offer positive feedback to help identify areas for improvement.

The third step in the process, cutting to 100 words, challenges writers the most. They do not want to get rid of their favorite lines or characters. Their egos begin to shout. Grimaces and moans appear out of nowhere. If willing, this is where writers will learn the most about clarity. The experience is a freeing, mindful lesson in letting go and regrouping. If the piece of work reads as confusing in 100 words, then the story essence needs a rework.

The fourth step in the process is to rethink and expand back out to a 750-word story. The contrast in skillful techniques after this "write of passage" is inspiring. The students in my class take six weeks to complete this process while workshopping each step. The catharsis, the celebration, the liberation is extraordinary.

Kaye Linden
www.kayelinden.com
35 Tips for Writing a Brilliant Flash Story 

Haiku: The Art of Implication

 by Bacopa Literary Review Senior Editor Mary Bast
Haiku . . . the shortest of short verses, with an intentional rearrangement of words . . . to tempt the reader's reaction beyond that of the words laid down. (Alan Summers, "Haiku: The Art of Implication over Explication," The Living Haiku Anthology)
Our 2019 Honorable Mention in Haiku was awarded to Ed Bremson for "old oak tree." The first time I read this haiku, when I reached the third line I burst into tears. And now, I'm simply at a loss for words and must let this lovely version of an ancient tradition speak for itself:
the old oak tree . . .
its history told in rings
and losses
Ed Bremson earned a BA in Philosophy from North Carolina State University and an MFA in Creative Writing from National University. An award-winning haiku poet, he has been published in various English language and Japanese journals and in 2017-2018 was three times NHK Haiku Master of the Week on Japanese TV. He also won grand prize in the 2018 World Haiku Competition. Ed lives in Raleigh, NC.

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(Read more Haiku, Poetry, Mixed Genre, Fiction, and Creative Nonfiction works
in Bacopa Literary Review 2019, Print Edition or Digital Format)