Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Bits and Pieces of Good Writing: Donald Ray Pollock, Knockemstiff

by Fiction Editor U.R. Bowie

With his first publication, a collection of short stories called Knockemstiff, Donald Ray Pollock, native of Knockemstiff, Ohio, has perfected the genre known as “hillbilly sleaze.”

The first story in the collection, “Real Life,” is typical in that it features the kind of characters who populate all the stories. The description of a friend Vernon encounters in the rest room is typical of Knockemstiff denizens in general: “a porky guy with sawdust combed through his greasy black hair. A purple stain shaped like a wedge of pie covered the belly of his dirty shirt.”

The first line: “My father showed me how to hurt a man one August night at the Torch Drive-in when I was seven years old.”

Full of hard-scrabble rednecks, the stories, as this one, sometimes feature a narrator of sensibility. In “Real Life” this is the boy narrator, nervous Bobby, whose life with his alcoholic father has him in the habit of “chewing the skin off my fingers.”

A typical male representative of the metropolis of Knockemstiff, the father, Vernon, is tough as nails, a man who hates movies and make-believe. As he puts it, “What the hell’s wrong with real life?”

The story describes a scene that Vernon creates in “real life,” when, drunk in the restroom of the drive-in and mouthing obscenities, he is accosted by another man. A big irony is that the men in the rest room enjoy the ensuing fight much more than Godzilla on the big screen outside.

Both men have their sons with them in the rest room. The other man, as large as a giant, doesn’t like Vern swearing in front of his son. After appearing to back down from a confrontation, Vern sucker punches the giant in the head. Then, after the giant is on the floor, he kicks his ribs and punches his face “until a tooth popped through one meaty cheek.” Other men have to pull him off the fallen giant before he kills him.

At this point the giant’s son attacks Bobby, and the old man forces him to fight: “You back down I’ll blister your ass.” As it turns out, Bobby bloodies the nose of the bigger boy and wins the fight.

While others call for an ambulance, Vernon and Bobby jump back in their car with Bobby’s mother and flee the drive-in. For the old man, who constantly complains about his son’s lack of toughness, “This is the best night of my fucking life.” When his wife objects to his drunken shenanigans the old man cracks her in the face with a forearm.

The story ends up being about a way of coming of age in the trailer-trash world of Knockemstiff. The meek Bobby has something of an epiphany in blood. “Real Life” ends with him in bed, contemplating his victory in the fight, which, apparently for the first time ever, has earned him the approval of his father. Interesting developments for Bobby’s future are suggested by the final lines:
“…I lapped the [other boy’s] blood off my knuckles. The dried flakes dissolved in my mouth, turning my spit to syrup. Even after I’d swallowed all the blood, I kept licking my hands. I tore at the skin with my teeth. I wanted more. I would always want more.”
 This tale of a gentle character's baptism in violence reminds me of a story by the great Russian short-story writer, Isaac Babel: "My First Goose."

Bacopa's Submissions open until June 30, 2016

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Bacopa Literary Review's 2016 Cover

Thanks to judge Stacey Breheny, with support from Bacopa's editorial staff, we have a winner of Bacopa Literary Review 2016's cover contest. We're blown away to discover the creator is our own local phenomenon, artist/writer/poet Christy Sheffield Sanford, author of seven small press books including Italian Smoking Piece, The Hs: the Spasms of a Requiem, and The Cowrie Shell Piece.  

Past covers have been elegant, reflecting six successful years of publication. Our new editorial board sought to maintain the Bacopa flower theme, while refreshing our image in the eyes of the writing public -- a visual invitation to poets and writers from an ever-broadening and diverse population.

In everyday terms, we wanted a cover that someone would see on a table or shelf and be drawn to its unique symbolism, asking "What is THAT??!! I have to see what's inside!!!"

Thank you, Christy Sheffield Sanford, for making that happen.

In addition to her education in art, psychology, philosophy, poetry, creative writing and interarts, Christy was the first Virtual Writer-in-Residence for trAce, formerly at Nottingham-Trent University. She collaborated with German artist Reiner Strasser on a web-specific piece Water~Water~Water, which was presented in Nottingham and Bristol, England as part of Nottingham Now.

Recipient of many awards (National Endowment for the Arts, Harn Museum of Art, New Orleans Contemporary Arts Center, to name a few) Chisty's a dedicated contributor to community arts and environmental preservation.She has several times been Associate Artist at the Atlantic Center for the Arts and has led many community efforts such as The Aquifer Project (a three-part grant for sculpture acquisition, a light-water performance by Florida School of the Arts called "River Reflections," and Design Elements Planning that evolved into a Community Greenprint with Dr. Mary Padua's University of Florida students).

Christy Sanford's works might be called mixed genre, hybrid, experimental, innovative, avant-garde -- all are true -- whether web-based or in print. Consider an excerpt, for example, from "This Bride Is Not an Expressway" (Bride Crashing Through History):
You cannot gain access to this Bride
by riding up the ramp 55 mph (88 km),
swerving over her skin, zooming
into the fast lane of her circulatory system. . . .

Bacopa's Submissions open until June 30, 2016

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Bacopa Literary Review: Natural Selection

by Editor-in-Chief Mary Bast

What distinguishes adult fiction from young adult fiction? Having a teen protagonist doesn't make a story young adult fiction. We have to look at writing style and relevant subject matter. Some say the distinction has to do with pacing and presentation, the pacing faster and the presentation simpler in young adult fiction. Often, however, the distinction is not at all clear. For example, the publisher of The Book Thief classifies it as a young adult novel. Really? I'm pretty well-read and far from being young, yet enjoyed both the novel and the film as completely relevant to my life and point of view. It seems to me the distinction is made by publishers for marketing purposes. I think we readers care only that a piece of fiction is well-written and introduces themes with which we can identify.

This is certainly true of "Natural Selection," Third Place Fiction winner from Bacopa Literary Review 2014, which features fifteen-year-old Nina. Author Nancy Scott Hanway's point of view is Nina's as an adult, recalling her childhood in a trailer with her mother, whose passion for Jane Austen led her to "raise me--her untouched and unsullied baby--according to Enlightenment norms. Jane Austen may have symbolized a sort of la-di-da romance to many people, but to my mother, Austen and her work stood for honesty, authenticity, and bedrock values." 

Nina, too, was a book thief--in her case precipitated by her mother's plan that "I would never be allowed to read anything published after the year 1817, when Jane Austen died. . . ." The Iowa Board of Education, however, required Nina's home schooling to be measured by state exams every year, and at age fifteen she finally read Darwin, "feeling as if I had stumbled upon an enormous secret. His ideas--that things progress, that the entire universe of plants and animals could transform dramatically--gave me hope." 

So Nina was at the Prairie Lights bookstore, searching "until I found the most expensive book on Darwin in the store: it was an academic textbook that cost $75. I slipped it into my overalls by leaning up against the shelf and letting the book slide down until it hit my ribs." Of course she was caught, and the police took her home, after giving her a warning. 
Inside, [my mother] sat slowly on one of our oak kitchen seats. "I thought you were different. But you're just like all the sick idiots in the world. Full of yourself."

Fury clutched my gut and rose to my throat. I struggled to speak, finally saying, "I'm like every idiot forced to read Jane Austen from birth--"

My mother stood up. For a moment I thought she was going to hit me. . . When she returned hours later, she was drunk, and she stumbled through the door where I sat reading Persuasion, half-terrified. Her gown was torn at the sleeve. She lay on the daybed beside me, staring at the ugly light fixture and occasionally picking at her sleeve. "Where's that book on Darwin?"

"I threw it in the trash," I said.

"You can't do that to books," she said, her words slurring. "Didn't I ever tell you?" She shook her head and fell asleep. I stood watching her for a long time before I rescued Darwin from the garbage and began to read.
Nancy Scott Hanway's writing appears in journals such as Forge, Grey Sparrow Journal, Inertia Magazine, Limestone, Lowestoft Chronicle, Shark Reef, and many more.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Bacopa Literary Review: a god falls from grace

by Bacopa Literary Review Poetry Editor Kaye Linden

Ekphrastic response to the Peter Breughel painting of Landscape With the Fall of Icarus.

an insignificant splash 

after such grandeur. Flying high in the sky next to the sun only to fall down in grace, fall down down slowly at first, tediously tedious when air currents waft his frail body back up up towards the sun only to surrender him down down to fall again, down towards earth in a tilting tumbling somersault that at another time might have felt like such fun but only if he could stay just in that moment and enjoy the ride up and down, but a crow laughs at his fall and Icarus wakes to the screeching in-between of sky and water and looks down (he should never have looked down) to see his face stare back from the water, mouth wide open in a silent scream soaring from the depths of his gaping throat, blue eyes staring, lengthy blonde curls floating around his head like a parachute, but not a parachute, a liability when water wets hair heavy weighing it down as he falls into his reflection, titillating upon the water, hearing the first drop, the second drop of the first splash, now hearing his voice high, tight calling for help, but the ploughman, the picnicker, the little child with a kite, turn to see the stupid disturbance from a stupid boy who really believed, really believed he would never die, that escape from a labyrinth meant wax wings waxing solid forever, that escape from prison meant playtime with sunbeams, not sliding down sunbeams, and the people look away look away from the red- faced god falling into human condition, the wide-eyed culprit who hits watery concrete, regal wings just behind his white legs, until his calls for help gurgle gurgle gurgle

and the world returns to its state of being the world again,
looking away. 

Monday, March 14, 2016

Describing a Scene

by Bacopa Literary Review 2016-17 Fiction Editor U.R. Bowie 

Selected Passages from the Writings of Good, and Sometimes Great Writers

[description of a ritual butcher in a Ukrainian shtetl, inspecting the lungs of a cow or sheep he has butchered] "The glossy brownish organs . . . . the grotesque and otherworldly things that made life possible and which everyone -- from a mouse to a man -- had pumping and sloshing around in the dark hollows under his skin" (David Bezmozgis, The Free World).

"Her light-brown hair was drawn smoothly back and gathered in a knot low on her neck, but near the right temple a single lock fell loose and curling, not far from the place where an odd little vein branched across one well-marked eyebrow, pale blue and sickly amid all that pure, well-nigh transparent spotlessness. That little blue vein above the eye dominated quite painfully the whole fine oval of the face" (Thomas Mann, "Tristan"). [Mann is great at describing human faces, human bodies.]

[description of a delicatessen] "there were glass showcases where smoked mackerel, lampreys, flounders, and eels were displayed on platters to tempt the appetite. There were dishes of Italian salad, crayfish spreading their claws on blocks of ice, sprats pressed flat and gleaming goldenly from open boxes; choice fruits -- garden strawberries and grapes as beautiful as though they had come from the Promised Land; rows of sardine tins and those fascinating little white earthenware jars of caviar and foie gras . . . " (Thomas Mann, Felix Krull) [Mann is also great at describing a scene by accumulating masses of detail; in this he reminds me of Nikolai Gogol.]

"She'd never met a child with beady eyes. Beadiness arrives after long slow ekes of disappointment, usually in middle age" (Lauren Groff, "For the God of Love, for the Love of God").  


Saturday, March 12, 2016

Bacopa Literary Review: Spirits Absently Floating

Poet Richard King Perkins II is a three-time Pushcart nominee and Best of the Net nominee. His work appears in hundreds of publications including Poetry Salzburg Review, Bluestem, Emrys Journal, Sierra Nevada Review, Two Thirds North, Red Cedar Review and December Magazine. He has poems forthcoming in Broad River Review, The William and Mary Review, and The Louisiana Review.

From Bacopa 2014, the Second Place winning poem by Richard King Perkins II:
Distillery of the Sun


She's a complicated person; one of those rare people
who laughs only because she's had a tough life
and can't see it at all.

What she can see, with eyes audacious and ever-reaching,
is your inner-landscape releasing oxygen

that settles upon nightfall and nearby skies
celebrating at the top of your mind and eyebrow.

It's complex, what she does; beyond the deepest blue,
evoking, in her down-to-earth way, an invitation:

come; there is so much more laughter to be revealed
and into your subtle hands will settle the essential droplets
of form and identity.


She asks where everyone has gone to
while plucking at greenery,
picking berries in purple and red,

thinking not of an alcohol made from fruit or honey
but a drink made from grain

and that we are all just spirits absently floating
out of and into the distillery of the sun

near-perfect impurities
taken by an isolation of breeze

that touches our forehead,
soon to be memory; consumed, forgotten,
perhaps never noticed at all.

Richard King Perkins II has many, many published poems; among them are these: Across the Margin, Alexandria QuarterlyBlack Heart Magazine, Black Poppy Review, Blue Bonnet Review, Broad River Review, Chicago Literati, concīs, Curator Magazine, Deltona Howl, Fishfood Literary & Creative Arts Magazine, Foliate Oak Literary Magazine, Fourth & Sycamore, Fox Adoption MagazineFront Porch Review, Gnarled Oak, Homestead Review, In Parentheses, Lunaris Review, minor literature [s], Modern Poetry Quarterly Review, Mystic Illuminations, 99 Pine Street, Serving House Journal, Rasputin, Roanoke Review, Snapping Twig, Songs of Eretz Poetry Review, Spellabee Space, The Magnolia Review, Thick with Conviction, Thin Noon, Tipton Poetry JournalVending Machine Press, Verse Virtual, Watershed Review, whimperbang, Words Dance Publishing, Zingara Poet.

Bacopa's Submissions open until June 30, 2016

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Everything is a Dream

by Bacopa Literary Review Fiction Editor U.R. Bowie 

Where And When You Write And Who Is Helping You Out 
"You don't do all the writing at your desk. You do it elsewhere, carrying the book with you. The book is your companion, you have it in your mind all the time, running through it, alert for links to it. It becomes your chief companion, in the real sense of the word, you can talk to it quietly. It becomes your sole companion" (James Salter, The Art of Fiction, p. 76).
Salter hints here that, unbenownst to you, the book is writing itself in your mind all the time. The deepest neurons of your brain work on the writing day and night. As recent studies in brain science have revealed, on a conscious level we have no idea about the decisions those independent neurons are making. 

Romantic writers used to think of themselves as the amanuenses of the gods, who guided their pens and sent down original ideas. But more likely writers are the amanuenses of their own creative neurons. When your favorite character suddenly does something totally unexpected on the page, it's not because God so decided. The neurons decided -- and they very well may have made that decision at three a.m., when you were fast asleep.
"There comes a time when you realize that everything is a dream, and only those things preserved in writing have any possibility of being real" (Salter, p. 77).

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Important and Unimportant

by Bacopa Literary Review Literary Fiction Editor U.R. Bowie

We Write Ourselves
"In a copy of a book that Colum McCann signed for an auction of first editions, beside the disclaimer that is always printed proclaiming that the book is a work of fiction, the names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the author's imagination, or are used fictitiously, and that any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental, beside this McCann wrote simply, 'Bullshit'" (James Salter, The Art of Fiction, p. 38).
Then again, you don't want to be sued, do you?

Important Books and Unimportant Books
"Books that are deemed important weren't written to be important, generally. They became such. I can't think that The Catcher in the Rye was written as an important, life-altering or significant book. I believe it was simply heartfelt. To Kill a Mockingbird doesn't bear marks of an intended importance although I don't know what Harper Lee actually felt. Fitzgerald thought all of his books were important. The Great Gatsby was a short book, only 214 pages, and he was insistent that the publisher sell it at the same price as his longer ones" (Salter, pp. 42-43).
Speaking of the so-deemed, the above paragraph demonstrates the sometimes dated opinions of James Salter. Read by everyone in the sixties, The Catcher in the Rye is read by practically no one these days. Not only not important, but already moribund, almost dead.  

To Kill a Mockingbird is still widely read, its so-deemed greatness still afloat, but it is "a book for children" (as Flannery O'Connor said).

As for The Great Gatsby, this book has claims to being the Great American Novel; it should be sold at twice the price of any other book.

Bacopa Literary Review: On a Good Day

by Bacopa Literary Review Fiction Editor U.R. Bowie

"You on a Good Day," by Alethea Black, was published in One Story, Issue #163, April 23, 2012, written totally in second person, about all the things you do, don't, on a good day.

You don't give the finger to the black pickup truck that tailgates and passes you aggressively, then let go of the wheel to give it two fingers when you see a rainbow-tinted peace sticker on the bumper. You do not call the friend--the one who was in the hospital a few weeks ago, and whom you did not visit or call--you do not call her today because today you need something from her. You do not consider dousing your refrigerator with gasoline and setting it on fire because of the sound its motor makes while you're trying to work. You do not wish the earth would just ignite and everyone would die in a ball of flame simply because it has been hot for a few days. You do not conjure up, in as vivid detail as possible, every time anyone has ever wronged you in any way. You do not think: We're a ruined, useless lot, and we deserve everything we get. You do not say under your breath, while forgoing a pack of cigarettes: It's either pain in the body or pain in the mind, take your pick.
This strikes me as the best story I've read since I've been subscribing to One Story--that covers about twenty stories.

I find myself marking up passages, even writing things down (my best commitment to a writer). So many wonderful passages, so much despair, but leavened with hope and optimism. "Hurt people hurt people." I suppose this expression has been around for awhile, but I never had heard it: wonderful.

I laugh all the way through this story, although the humor is dark.

About the end: in the Q and A section, the ending is described as "unabashedly happy, hopeful." I wouldn't describe it that way. I think the ending is happy/sad, like the rest of the story, like life.

The ending moves me.
Bacopa's Submissions open until June 30, 2016

Friday, March 4, 2016

Bacopa Literary Review: Winning Words

by Editor-in-Chief Mary Bast

Charlotte M. Porter's writing sweeps enthusiastically through poetry, creative nonfiction, flash fiction, fiction. And the first thing you'll notice about every piece of this oeuvre is the imaginative use of language. Her characteristic verbal verve as nom de plume Wanda Legend is evident in a single sentence from N-word (creative nonfiction, Bacopa Literary Review 2011) as quoted in NewPages:
Not for amateurs, small-town chat is a craft masterful as tractor repair or canning.
In Porter's fiction piece, Rip Curl (Duende), foster child Sierra lives in a trailer park: 
Sierra counts out twenty-eight hop-steps to Trailer no. 78, Home Sweet Home. . . Lake Park is a slum of life-size crates, what the social worker calls a community of manufactured homes. Sierra has never been sure what to call the factory colors – dark white, grubby tan, dishwater blond. . .  The one window, covered with baggy Mylar, reminds her of a big eye with a snotty cold.
Swerve: A Life in Three Parts (SLAB|Sound & Literary Art Book) takes us from B.S. (Before Speech) through A.S. (After Speech), and a Coda:
After Speech, words are my pilosity, nettle cowage, stinging hairs.
Lips lacquered, teeth capped, ventral implants, I look like soccer mom or human rage-cage, gagged hostage inside snare.
Burningwood Literary Journal features two of Porter's poems. 
From Snapshot with Suet:
Say, has anyone found the old lorgnettes, those folding opera glasses?
Nice keepsake my musical sisters agree, sorting our dead Mother’s things.
Vissi d’arte, Vissi d’amore they yodel from Tosca.
From Morning Scrabble:
At my brother Michael’s gravesite, others toss handfuls of earth, stones, flowers. I throw small wooden squares with letters, stuffed in my purse and pockets, pieces from his favorite childhood board game — winning words, our excuse for wagers.

Before they dump out drawers at home, let’s see what’s left to play: O B T X R U D Z E S C H I F N A T M A …W. WOMBAT, RATFINK, tags for schoolyard FOES. FAUX, FINCH, short DEFT words like ZED and UR earned quick points. Easy vocab, RUDE, RAIN, SHINE, AFTER, we learned, ate money vowels that better earned their keep in CRUDE, INTRUDE, SHINER, SHAFTED, RAFTER.
About Porter's prize-winning Deaf Uncle (Talking/Writing flash fiction contest), judge Joanne Avallon wrote:
I fell hardest for 'Deaf Uncle' because the language haunted me, both the Uncle's ('virgin cartilage' for 'Virgil's Carthage') and the narrator's ('crafts for girls, sports for boys...same old Scout badges'). The author packs so much intention into every word that each has a long half-life. . . .
So now you know what to expect in Charlotte M. Porter's Pangs (First Place Fiction prize, Bacopa 2014). And you won't be disappointed:
. . . After we split, I should have dug out all the bulbs and tubers, yanked the corms and grafts, peeled the orchids off their small wooden paddles. . .
Bunky never could say no to the unwanted or underperforming office plant. . . After several months in a kind home, these salvaged plants always gained strength and id, huge, office-bossy with drag-along auras from the culture of mid-level management. Pencil cactus hangs overhead transpiring oxygen like a panting creep. Euphorb snivels, shrivels skin, sprouts thorns to snag curious fingers. Croton reaches out like a mission statement and threatens to crawl on those damn leafy polka dots. . . .
Charlotte M. Porter lives in an old citrus hamlet in North Central Florida. In addition to awards mentioned above, she has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize, and has placed as finalist in The Calvino Prize (outstanding pieces of fiction in the fabulist experimentalist style of Italo Calvino) and Rose Metal Press Sixth Annual Chapbook contest. She's also been published in Baseball Bard, and the Remaking Moby-Dick project of Pea River Journal (international multimodal storytelling performance). Porter's most recent exhibit, Hem-nal, a collaboration with Christy Sheffield Sanford, explores hemlines through poetry and stitched collages.