Friday, October 15, 2021

From The Editors: Bacopa Literary Review 2021

I love the stars because they flicker. I love the stars because they recede.
I love the stars because they trace perfect circles if you plant yourself
on a hill and let the aperture stay open all night, exposed.
Shana Ross, “If Betelgeuse Explodes, I Will Be Sad”

As we assemble each edition of Bacopa Literary Review, we look for themes. One over-arching focus in both 2020 and 2021 is grief. This theme, pervasive in every aspect of our lives for the last year and a half as we all endure the COVID-19 pandemic, is clearly present in this year’s journal. But some of the other themes this year have surprised us, a fascinating and uplifting set of motifs employed in ways as simultaneously jarring and consoling as the image of the little bird in Emily Dickinson’s famous poem “‘Hope’ is the thing with feathers,” who sings the tune without the words--/ And never stops—at all--// And sweetest—in the Gale—is heard.  

It would be easy to let grief overwhelm us, in times like these, and some of our selections reflect on that ease. There is the dark, all-encompassing existential agony over the family tragedy expressed in Alec Kissoondyal’s “Smudge.” Its complement, the long slog through the initial stages of grief and into something approximating the rest of life for those left behind, is portrayed in Shuly Cawood’s “Not Naming It.” There is also the gentle, even humorous sense of resignation and peace-making with grief expressed in both Janet Marugg’s fictional vignette “Lila’s Last Day” and Lora Straub’s nonfiction essay “A Fragile Inheritance." 

In part as acknowledgement of the need to face and work through the individual and collective sorrows COVID-19 has wrought, we open this year’s collection with Megan Wildhood’s probing, elegiac “Oh. There is No Going Back.” Wildhood’s poem takes up grief and turns it around like a many-faceted gem, examining its dark surfaces and acknowledging the ways it impacts even our memory and understanding of life before the grieving time: the first time I remembered the Before world and it was full/ of holes. 

But we’ve noticed plenty of other shared themes in this year’s Bacopa. Most are riffs on the great concerns of human existence, and thereby of most literature—love, joy, struggle, pain, pride, humility, endurance. One motif across genres surprised us, though. Birds—those “things with feathers” and wings.

            We invite you to keep an eye out for them as you read your way through this year’s offerings. Some, such as the baby birds in Kissoondyal’s Smudge,” Adam Knight’s “Little Bird,” and the small bird that crashes into a window at the opening of Elizabeth Christopher’s “Dream Catcher,” show up as emblems of fragility, loss, and, yes, grief. Timi Sanni’s pained, prayerful poem “Orison” even presents us with the antithesis to Dickinson’s eternal, undaunted feathered singer: the bird/ of hope folding its wings, its hollow bones// crushing as they welcome the uncanny force/ of darkness. These birds, and some of the others that flit through the pages that follow, are creatures of night, of darkness or at least a liminal spacethe edge of shadow where darkness meets, commingles with light. They remind us that time flows unceasing and life proceeds in all its shades—from drudgery and weariness, pain and fear, through excitement, exultation, and joy—and all those shades are certainly represented in a myriad of tints and tones. 

            Artists are grappling with the reality that humanity as a whole, the world over, is undergoing a tremendous cataclysm of collective loss and mourning, at this moment of history. People are mourning lost friends and loved ones, lost jobs and businesses, lost opportunities and experiences—from students missing out on graduations and other rites of passage, to families delaying having children, partners delaying marriage, and so much more. For many of us, the pandemic delayed our ability to be physically present with each other, to collectively express and process these many and varied sorrows. For too many of us, a long-delayed process of grieving has only recently begun in earnest.

            Our shadow birds remind us, as Shana Ross’s First Prize poem quoted in the epigraph above so presciently puts it, When you live in too much light you cannot see the stars/ yet they exist. 

            But most of Bacopa 2021’s birds fly in the other direction, and beautifully so, as exemplified by the powerful mythical bird that lends its name to Sergio Ortiz’s fierce “Yo soy el Fénix.” Birds—strong, fierce and joyful—are central characters in both William Nuessle’s “Hero’s Eyes” and this year’s Fiction First Prize winner, Tomas Baiza’s “Huitzilin.” Flight, uplift, release—these themes are woven through every category of writing. Though too many of us are still inside the edge of the shadow, many here at home and around the world are beginning to see the gilded limning of the other side.

        We hope you will find yourself lifted, energized, and inspired as we were by the tremendous outpouring of talent and creativity we received for our 2021 journal. May we move onward and upward together, like the tiny winged warriors of “Huitzilin,” out of the global shroud of this pandemic and into the blaze of a new day dawning. May we be so blessed as to know the joy and triumph that surges through the closing line of Baiza’s magical tale: And so, I become light.

—J.N. Fishhawk & Mary Bast


Wednesday, October 13, 2021

A Fragile Inheritance: Creative Nonfiction 2nd Prize

 by Creative Nonfiction Editor Stephanie Seguin

A beautiful narrative arc in a very short space

When reading through submissions for creative nonfiction I look for beautiful writing, of course, but also for some sense of connection. I want to feel as though I've gotten to know the narrator a bit. In Lora Straub's Second Prize winning A Fragile Inheritance, I felt a connection to this narrator and her family.

I am also a reader who is charmed by small details. I loved the grandmother with an extensive crystal collection who drinks her chianti out of a favorite plastic juice cup and washes all her dishes by hand even though she has a dishwasher. This family, with their quirks and running jokes, felt familiar.

The other thing that felt special about this piece of writing was the growth of the narrator. Twelve hundred words is precious little storytelling space, yet within that, we see this narrator grow from a young woman who resents talk of death, to a woman who wants to be taken seriously enough to be trusted to wrap up her grandmother's crystal, finally to a woman who understands the gift she has been given by both her mother and grandmother.

When my husband and I unboxed them, six years after Grammar's death, Steve unwrapped each with reverence. Held one after the other up to the light and admired the cut. I buried my nose in a goblet like I was smelling a flower, still caught a whiff of mildewed books and Grammar's warm presence in the stale air caught between the glass and newspaper. Perhaps the stemware summoned the scent.

It had nothing to do with trust. Wrapping that crystal was one of the last things Mom could do for her mother, and that doubled as a gift for her daughters: the unwrapping. Grammar's house, most of her books, dishtowels, the gold carpet, her fake fruit: all gone. But the scent: a momentary return of a singular spirit.

And so in this piece I found that wonderful gift of a story, which is to peek in someone else's window and see something that is wholly different but so familiar. Because I also am a woman, missing my beloved grandmother, whose tiny crystal votive holder has pride of place on my shelf.
  * * *

Lora Straub lives in Boston, MA. Her poetry prose chapbook, Id Est, was released in October 2017 by SpeCt! Books. Her work can be found in Construction Mag, She Explores, The Fem, The Elephants, and Wave Composition, among others. She is currently working on a memoir.

Thursday, October 7, 2021

Carolyne Wright's New Collection, Masquerade

We've awarded several prizes to fabulous poet Carolyne Wright over the years, including "Los Olvidados:The Forgotten Ones" in 2011, "Sestina: Into Shadow" in 2013, and "Sestina: That mouth . . ." in 2016. And we're happy to announce her new collection, Masquerade, published this month by Lost Horse Press. As described on

"Masquerade is a jazz-inflected, lyric-narrative sequence of poems, a "memoir in poetry" set principally in pre-Katrina New Orleans and in Seattle, involving an interracial couple who are artists and writers. Moved by mutual fascination, shared ideals and aspirations, and the passion they discover in each other, the two are challenged to find a place together in the cultures of both races and families, amidst personal and political dislocations as well as questions of trust—all against the backdrop of America's racism and painful social history. The twentieth century's global problem, the color line, as W. E. B. du Bois named it, is enacted here in microcosm between these lovers and fellow artists, who must face their own fears and unresolved conflicts in each other. Similar stories have been told from the male protagonist's point of view; Masquerade is unique in foregrounding the female perspective." 

These poems are included in Masquerade:

"Triolets on a Dune Shack"


"I Forgive


Carolyne Wright is author of This Dream the World: New and Selected Poems, whose title poem won a Pushcart Prize and also appeared in The Best American Poetry 2009. Her ground-breaking anthology, Raising Lilly Ledbetter: Women Poets Occupy the Workspace, received ten Pushcart Prize nominations. She has authored five earlier books of poetry, a volume of essays, and five award-winning volumes in translation from Spanish and Bengali. A contributing editor for the Pushcart Prizes, she teaches at Seattle’s Richard Hugo House and at conferences and festivals worldwide.

Saturday, June 26, 2021

Bacopa Literary Review 2021 Prize Winners

POETRY (Editor J.N. Fishhawk)

  • First Prize: Shana Ross, "If Betelgeuse Explodes I Will Be Sad"
  • Second Prize: Shoshauna Shy, "Key Lime Pie"

PROSE POETRY (Editor Kaye Linden)

  • First Prize: Nicole Farmer, "car wash orgasmic whirl"
  • Second Prize: Les Epstein. "Grenadine"

CREATIVE NONFICTION (Editor Stephanie Seguin)

  • First Prize: Gerald Ryan, "And The Road Goes On Forever"
  • Second Prize: Lora Straub, "A Fragile Inheritance"

FICTION (Editor J. Nishida)

  • First Prize: Tomas Baiza, "Huitzilin"
  • Second Prize: Fern F. Musselwhite, "The Vanishing Heart"


Sunday, May 9, 2021

Audacious Ekphrasis

by Mary Bast

  "Oh hell, here's that dark wood again" by Mary Bast
If you want to know more about me, Googling my name will first evoke echoes of my now retired life as an Enneagram coach and related books. But I've also written several forms of poetry including ekphrasis, an audacious poetic form that's among many we encourage in our print journal.

You'll find a long history and many definitions of ekphrasis. I prefer the most open, contemporary version:
Ekphrasis: the intersection of verbal and visual arts.

As a visual artist I've explored many ways to interpret "the intersection of verbal and visual arts." For example, in response to Kim Addonizio's poem "Divine(Oh hell, here's that dark wood again . . .), I painted "Oh hell, here's that dark wood again" (above) then reacted to my painting with the poem "Backdraft." 

Virtually any type of artistic medium may be the actor of, or subject of ekphrasis. I first learned about ekphrastic poetry in a workshop with Melanie Almeder, who drew our attention to two famous poems written in response to Pieter Brueghel's painting, The Fall of Icarus: William Carlos Williams' "Landscape with the Fall of Icarus" and W.H. Auden's "Musee des Beaux Arts." Note that Williams' poem to some degree follows the tradition of describing the visual scene (a farmer was ploughing / his field / the whole pageantry / of the year was / awake tingling / with itself), while Auden's interpretation is a bit wider (About suffering they were never wrong, / the old Masters: how well they understood / Its human position: how it takes place / While someone else is eating or opening a window). 

Almeder invited workshop participants to write our own poems in response to the Brueghel painting, encouraging us to range as far as our muses would go. My poem "plummet" (published in Bacopa Literary Review 2012) imagined Icarus as a woman:
there is an Icarus
a woman who flies 

on intricate
feathered web
of covert


she breathes faster
learns to soar

the admonition
do not fly too high

her efforts full
of sky
of wind

her breasts
still flecked with honey
dripped from wings' wax

heavy with her father's
heavier than water

when she dives
no sun's light
scuffs the surface
Remember Bacopa's poetry statement: We're looking for well-wrought poems in any form or genre, or none. Intrigue us, move us, surprise us with stunning imagery, lyricism, soundplay, structure. Disturb our well-trod patterns of thought.      

Saturday, May 1, 2021

Guidelines Don't Limit Your Freedom!

by Mary Bast

Year after year, we're surprised by how many submissions ignore our guidelines. If you want to be published, why would you do that?

Wouldn't you would want to be seen as thoughtful of the editors' time demands when considering the merits of a submission and its fit with a particular issue? If you haven't followed the guidelines, might we fairly assume you haven't read past issues or have any idea of the kind of work we publish?

We are not trying to limit your freedom. We do not want to make your life more difficult. We have these guidelines because we want to give each submission the best chance of an unbiased and positive reaction.

If we've asked for Arial typeface, size 12, why would you ignore that request? Aren't you at least curious about that choice, when you're so familiar with Times New Roman? This matters a great deal because we read submissions onscreen, and Arial size 12 is the best typeface and size for comfortable online reading (we receive more than a thousand submissions per submission period). The familiar serif typeface of Times New Roman ("little feet and embellishments on the tip and base of each letter") is fine for print, but more difficult to read online. Arial's "sans-serif" typeface (no embellishments), size 12 or larger, doesn't use as many pixels and is easier on the eyes, especially for long hours of onscreen reading.

I'll let you in on a secret: I hate Times New Roman. Even on a good day, when I'm feeling patient and haven't yet read ten submissions of up to 2500 words each, I still have to suppress my Times New Roman bias when I hit Ctrl+A ("select all") and change the typeface to Arial so I can read it with my already fatigued eyes.

Wednesday, April 28, 2021

Prose Poetry: The Playful and Daring Edge

by Mary Bast

We eagerly await submissions of prose poems to Bacopa Literary Review 2021.
As stated in our 2021 Prose Poetry guidelines:  
"Think playful, eccentric, inspiring, surprising, suggestive, rule-breaking.”
Prose poems are modern, nontraditional, and often misunderstood. Instead of the line breaks of traditional poetry, prose poems may take any form, but they share the major element of all poetry in the quality of the language. Here's an example from our 2018 Bacopa Literary Review, one of three prose poems by Darren Demaree in "bone requires bone":
traditionally i would have already been stoned for knowing the witch for loving the witch for paying the witch for asking the witch to curse my father for taking all of the oxygen in every room he walked in when i was a child traditionally this would be considered a confession of sorts but now we know we know we know that he owes me a deep breath that i am entitled to walk up to him his mouth and leave him behind me panting until his grandchildren grow up to the age i quit drilling holes in the walls of the house on concord street

Another post describes Prose Poetry Prize Winner Cynthia Roby's "U-Turn." See also Prose Poetry Editor Kaye Linden's "The Prose Poem: An Eccentric Genre."

Submissions open May 1-May 31, 2021
Prose Poetry, Poetry, Fiction, Creative Nonfiction
$300 1st Prize, $100 2nd Prize in each genre!


Saturday, March 27, 2021

The Difference Between the Lightning Bug and the Lightning

by J. Nishida 

Bacopa Literary Review 2021 will receive hundreds of fiction submissions. What will make yours stand apart? We seek short fiction (up to 2500 words) that immediately captures the imagination, tells an original story in vivid language, and provides an ending that rewards our investment of time and attention. 

Steven Millhauser writes: 

Its littleness is the agency of its power ... The short story apologizes for nothing. It exults in its shortness. It wants to be shorter still. It wants to be a single word. If it could find that word, if it could utter that syllable, the entire universe would blaze up out of it with a roar. That is the outrageous ambition of the short story, that is its deepest faith, that is the greatness of its smallness. 

If you Google the qualities of a well written short story, you'll find a thousand rules to follow, many of them debatable. But Kurt Vonnegut’s first rule is not debatable:  

Use the time of a total stranger in such a way that he or she will not feel the time was wasted.

Listen to your story read aloud for clarity, logic, coherence of shifts (time, place, tone, point of view), completeness, and music. Trust your readers to “get” what needn’t be stated outright. Favor concrete detail to philosophical musings. Be sure the writing conventions (grammar, punctuation, syntax, spelling) serve comprehensibility and fluidity of reading, instead of impeding them. Use crisp, concise, and readable language, free of clichés and distracting convention errors. Spark a life that lingers in the reader’s imagination.

Cut and cut; distill your language. If 1000 words will capture the heart and bone of your original 2500, use 1000. If 500 will capture that of the 1000, use 500. If one word will do instead of three, use what Mark Twain describes as the right word:  

The difference between the almost right word and the right word is really a large matter--it is the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning.

*   *   *

Fiction Editor J. Nishida has B.A. and Masters Degrees in English, graduate-level certification in Teaching English as a Second Language, and an Education Specialist degree in secondary school reading. She's studied numerous languages, including Spanish, French, Japanese, Welsh, and Arabic; has co-edited/co-translated a book of Japanese Waka poetry; self-published a children's beginning reader chapter book for ESOL and/or special-needs students; taught English reading, language arts, and writing in both classroom and online environments; tutored and taught ESOL with high school/college students and adults; done free-lance editing; and worked for charitable and non-profit endeavors supporting literacy and the arts.

Nishida has traveled widely to feed her addiction to Shakespearean theatre, including NYC, London, Stratford-upon-Avon, and the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. She's attended numerous literary conferences, festivals, and workshops, among them the Dodge Poetry Festival, the Palm Beach Poetry Festival, the American Literary Translators Association Conference, the Toronto Storytelling Festival, and the Florida Storytelling Festival.

As a child of a military family, Nishida lived in five U.S. states and near Oxford, UK. As an adult she has lived in Leuven, Belgium and Mallorca, Spain, and has traveled as far afield as Japan and New Zealand. Her family currently lives in Gainesville, FL with two dogs, a snake, and far too many cats. She favors the Oxford comma with  a zealotry that borders on fanaticism. 


Friday, February 12, 2021

J.N. Fishhawk: Poet, Writer, Editor

by Mary Bast

J.N. Fishhawk. Poetry Editor from 2017-2021, and will be taking over as Editor-in-Chief with the 2022 issue .

A friend of our journal long before he joined our editorial staff, J.N.'s prose poem "a prayer" helped inaugurate our first annual edition (Bacopa Literary Review 2010):

O bear, O rabbit, O moon, O woods with yr million million twiggy fingers clutching after disappearing fur, nestling features, lifting scales and claws and soft suction toes, scuttling buggy digits of horn and chitin, little dust-kissed hooks of moths, O things in thickets crawling, O clatter of lizards under leafmold, O slip of spider silk like cat's cradle played with death on the shivering green breeze-reaches, O underscrub where all breaths die, blaze of sun among dry wrecked shells in sand, you ancient snailshacks going slowly apart over centuries for lime, liner for the guts of the native earth, O hell all you racket of growth and vigorous destruction, come on, come on, burn and turn, let's all go down together and come up again some other time, who knows what beings we'll be? 
Far longer than our Bacopa acquaintance, J.N. has been a moving force of the Civic Media Center and Library (CMC) in Gainesville, Fl, a nonprofit, independent, grassroots, street-level alternative library and progressive community organizing space. He's often the MC for CMC's Thursday night open mic where many of our local poets and writers have given voice to their work. He's also a freelance writer and editor, with emphasis on education, outreach and promotions, academic, and artistic projects.

From one of his latest creative works: "The Darklands may be caught in infrared glimpses framed by ancient shade trees. They glimmer just below the surface of sunset rivers older than time..." So reads in part the back cover of Dancing Ghost's 2016 Production, Postcards from the Darklands, Photos by Jorge Ibáñez, Poems by Jimmy Fishhawk.*

J.N.'s ekphrastic poems in Postcards from the Darklands are beautifully evocative of Jorge's photos, as evidenced in #20:
in wall so worn
by forgotten centuries' winds
that the puddled glass
between the windows' lead
is the ancestor of the ancestor
of the bubbled plate
that was the first pane
placed there,
where the shades still recall
the wartime blackout
even in the claybake
ovenheat of noon,
a ghost of her face
may be seen
to keep watch
on the darkest night
electric light fails
under the ice-weight
of winter
and even the stars howl
with grief
where the spines
of their own illumination
stab them
*J.N. Fishhawk, poet, writer, and agitator, has called the swamplands of Florida home for many years. His work has appeared in a variety of print and online journals; he's also the author of two poetry chapbooks: Virus, Pt. 1:1 Infest Yer Consciousness (Dreaming God Productions) and Gone (Ghost Dog Press).

Sunday, February 7, 2021

Fees: An Obstacle to Best, Most Diverse Writing

by Mary Bast
A $3 fee might not sound like much, but the average short story might receive around 20 rejections before it's published . . . Reading fees also pose an extra obstacle in the literary community's efforts to be more diverse . . . Fees ensure that people who have disposable income will submit the most . . . ("Should Literary Journals Charge Writers Just to Read Their Work?" Joy Lanzendorfer, The Atlantic, Oct. 25, 2015)
Every year our editorial board reviews the finances of publishing a print journal, and considers the obvious arithmetic of submission fees to offset the cost of prizes, layout, printing (we editors are volunteers). There's more to consider than the obvious, though, when our goal is to publish top quality work from a diverse group of writers and poets.

Any journal of our size is in competition with thousands of other print and online literary magazines for the best work. So it's helped me to draw from my former business--built on writing and internet presence--to think of Bacopa Literary Review as a small, nonprofit business with a vision, goals, and action plans. As with any organization that wants to succeed in its field, our core values and their priorities must be clear: Economy? Service? Excellence?

Of course excellent writing is key, and going into my sixth year as Editor-in-Chief, our team has become more and more clear that "excellence" includes a diversity consistent with worldwide diversity of fine writers--diversity of age (and thus cohort groups--whose styles, issues, and concerns differ decade by decade), of gender identification (not just males and females--an increasingly useless dichotomy), of geographic location, of literary background (from well-published septuagenarians to recently hatched MFAs of all ages, to beginning writers who've never published before).

A close second to excellence in our vision is service, interacting with and congratulating writers and poets by email, in this blog, Facebook, and Twitter; making sure they see within days that their submissions are being reviewed, responding quickly when we know a submission is not quite a fit for a given year's issue, and accepting especially good pieces right away so we don't lose them to another journal. When contributors notify us that they've later published books, we feature them here. Starting with the 2019 issue, we've also invited contributors to send posts about their work in Bacopa, to promote our writers and poets as much as we can.

Economy runs third as a core value for Bacopa--important, but not as important as excellence and service. We've experimented with fees, and though the current team has never charged more than $3 per submission, it is clear that we receive the finest and most diverse writing when we don't charge a fee. We do stay within the budget of a general annual cost estimate, and we're fortunate that our sponsor, Writers Alliance of Gainesville, is willing to foot the average $3000/year (not including the many hours donated by our editorial team in what is mostly a labor of love). If we charged fees we'd have fewer submissions, and thus less work, but we'd also lose some of the best writers and have a much less diverse publication.

Tuesday, February 2, 2021

I Don't Want It, But It's Not Junk!

 by Mary Bast

Writers often succumb to this fatal flaw of fiction writing, explaining and telling and summarizing instead of showing action as it's happening. "How Fiction Writers Can Show Emotions in Their Characters in Effective Ways," C.L. Lakin, Live, Write, Thrive.

Our 2020 Fiction Second Prize winner, "Junk," by Siamak Vossoughi, starts out quietly:

About once a week we'd get a call from somebody asking us to haul their junk, and they'd call their junk what anybody with the sense God gave them would call it, which was junk. So I was unprepared when I got a call for some hauling out in Duven and the guy said he had a truckload of stuff but he didn't want to call it junk.
     "It's my parents' stuff," he said. "I don't want it, but it's not junk."
     "Okay, You want us to haul it away?"
     "Yes. But it's not junk . . ."

Then, readers are invited into the ensuing conversation between the speaker, Mike, and his partner in their junk hauling business, Louis, who agrees with the customer that when your parents have died, the things they've left behind are not "junk." What slowly grabs us is how this story shows the action as it's happening, in the conversation between two junk haulers as they consider, first, the customer's potential reaction to their T-shirts with the slogan "Tree Service and Hauling Junk."

     "I'm going to go load the truck," I said.
     I went out back and loaded the truck for the afternoon. We had a tree job over on Greenwood. I thought about all the time I spent designing the shirt. I hadn't half-assed it. It was a good shirt and I liked putting it on in the morning.
     I went back inside.
     "What are  you going to do about the truck?"
     "What about it?"
     "It says We Haul Junk on the side. Because, as I mentioned, that's what we do."
     Louis stared at the side of the truck.
     "He said his mother and father
both died?" . . .

Mike and Louis engage in an almost comic routine as they consider covering the word JUNK on the side of their truck with the word STUFF, Mike kicking all the way with such comments as, "Nobody's going to do this for us when our parents go." 

     . . . I wondered if there was a way I could've told Louis about the job when the guy had first called without mentioning that he didn't want us to call his parents' stuff junk. Who expects a guy to run with it like that?

 Eventually, though, Mike comes around.

     ". . . You win. We have to change the receipts."
     "The receipts say junk on them. If you're going to give him a receipt, you might as well cross out the word junk and write something else there too. . ."
What makes this story a prize winner? Author Vossoughi invites us to observe Mike and Louis grappling with a customer's likely grief and reaction to signs that his parents' belongings might be considered junk, engaging thoughts about their own parents' eventual deaths, without once talking about their feelings. And yet, masterfully, the author brings readers almost to tears with ordinary dialogue between two ordinary guys, in their own way showing compassion for a customer's feelings.

*   *   *

Siamak Vossoughi, a writer living in Seattle, has had stories published in various journals, and his 2015 collection, Better Than War, was shortlisted for the William Saroyan International Prize for Writing and received a 2014 Flannery O'Connor Award for Short Fiction. His recent collection, A Sense of the Whole, received the 2019 Orison Fiction Prize, judged by Victor LaValle. From Jane Hu's New York Times review of A Sense of the Whole: "What emerges is the sense that anyone you meet has a story." Click here for Vossoughi's website and follow him on Twitter @siamakvossoughi.

  Read Siamak Vossoughi's prize-winning "Junk" on pages 10-14,
as well as other engaging works of Fiction,
Creative Nonfiction,
Humor, and Short-Short Fiction in Bacopa Literary Review 2020

Tuesday, January 5, 2021

Whose War Is It Anyway?

by Bacopa Literary Review 2020 Fiction First Prize winner James D'Angelo

I wrote the first draft of "Proxy" after reading Joan Didion's Salvador, Anthony Doerr's All the Light We Cannot See, and War Is a Racket by Marine Corps Major General Smedley D. Butler. I was fascinated with the idea of being a civilian trapped in a military-occupied town while the machinery of war grinds away. I also wanted to explore being a witness to something terrible. What level of culpability does a witness have, specifically a war reporter? Are you loyal to your country or to the truth?

That first draft received mixed responses at my weekly writing group, but someone recommended I read Dexter Filkins' book The Forever War. That helped me dive deeper inside the head of a journalist caught up in a combat zone. The title "Proxy" is on one level a reference to the term proxy war, and you can find plenty of those throughout the last century. But the story intentionally lacks certain details of the people, the geography, and the exact time period. This fictional war is a proxy for all the wars the United States has waged, overtly or covertly, for resources.

At dawn the American guns open up and vent Hell's exhaust.
     The shells rain until dusk falls, always on faraway places.
     They do this every day.
     At night, sharpshooters with Starlight scopes command the sight lines. They can spot the cherry of a cigarette from nine hundred yards and kill the man smoking it before the nicotine reaches his lungs . . .
     The U.S. military has spent countless research dollars to make soldiers more effective. They found that the mechanical distance between killer and victim is a key factor in willingness . . .
     Firing artillery. Shooting at the tips of cigarettes. It's easy to lose track of cause and effect . . .

I was lucky enough to have "Proxy" accepted just before I started my MFA program. I told my professor in office hours, but haven't directly told anyone in my workshop. Doing so feels too boastful. In my school's newsletter I provided this summary: 

"Proxy" tells the story of a journalist exposing the cost of fighting someone else's war. The evidence he gathers reveals how easy it is to kill for profit.

I stand by my blurb, but I'd love for you to read the story and tell me your thoughts. You can find/yell at me on Twitter. I want to thank my fiction professor Thisbe Nissen for believing in this story when it was part of my MFA application, as well as Lower Bucks Creative Writers for seeing it through from the first draft. And finally, thanks to Bacopa Literary Review for this incredible opportunity. "Proxy" is my first published story, so this is all new and exciting, and I'm very grateful.

*   *   *

  Read James D'Angelo's prize-winning "Proxy" on pages 59-64,
as well as other engaging works of Fiction,
Creative Nonfiction,
Humor, and Short-Short Fiction in Bacopa Literary Review 2020


Saturday, December 26, 2020

2020 Humor First Prize: "Jesus's Bar Mitzvah Speech" by Jon Shorr

by Bacopa Literary Review 2020 Humor Editor, Stephanie Seguin

When I set out to select humor pieces for this year's issue, I had very little idea what sort of pieces would turn up. Humor means such a wide variety of things and is so different for many. I wanted something that made me laugh, certainly, but also I wanted writing that felt crafted, clever.

I chose Jon Shorr's "Jesus's Bar Mitzvah Speech" for first prize because it fit both those criteria. I laughed out loud at the images of Jesus's family and friends sitting through the lengthy ritual. 

And the people in the temple listened to Jesus, except for Mrs. Silverblatt who was upset with her son for wearing non-matching sandals. . .

As a girl raised Catholic, I have long been amused by thoughts of Jesus enduring the more mundane and tedious aspects of life on earth, particularly adolescence. Did Jesus have acne? Homework? Was he scolded for not finishing chores?

For me, humor is often found in small, well-chosen details. What made this piece a standout were details like Mrs. Silverblatt upset about her son's sandal choices and also Jesus relating to his selected Torah parsha with bits of his home life.

I can really relate to this parsha because sometimes my mom and my (air quotes) "dad" want me to do stuff, and I'm like, so if I do this stuff, will you let me go over the Jude's house and play, and they say ok, so I do it, but then they're like "it's getting dark" . . .

Jon Shorr captured my imagination with Jesus taking part in this adolescent rite of growing up that so many have experienced, right down to waiting for the food spread after.

And the multitudes dispersed, some to the Ahazariah and Peninah Plotnik multipurpose room for luncheon and others to the Nazareth Tech-Mt. Tabor game.

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Jon Shorr is a retired college professor whose creative nonfiction and journalism have been published in magazines, literary journals, and anthologies, including JMORE Living, Tricycle, Passager, Pangyrus, Stories That Need to Be Told, and The Inquisitive Eater.

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  Read Jon Shorr's "Jesus's Bar Mitzvah Speech" on pages 19-21,
as well as other engaging works of Humor, Fiction,
Creative Nonfiction,
Poetry, and Short-Short in Bacopa Literary Review 2020