Saturday, November 18, 2017

"Spirit Will Never Be Quelled" -- 2017 Pushcart Nominations:

The Pushcart Prize: Best of the Small Presses Series, published every year since 1976, is the most honored literary project in America. 
"How can this series. . . staffed by hundreds of unpaid volunteers across the country, have survived and thrived for decades?" Because "Spirit will never be quelled, certainly not by big bucks and bluster." And indeed it's true. Bacopa Literary Review 2017's unpaid volunteer editors have thrived on this year's spirited entries and we're proud to announce our Pushcart nominations:

Stephanie Emily Dickinson, "Excerpts from the Trakl Diaries"

Dickinson lives in New York City. Her novel Half Girl and novella Lust Series are published by Spuyten Duyvil, as is her Love Highway, based on the 2006 Jennifer Moore murder. Her other books include Port Authority Orchids, Heat: An Interview with Jean Seberg, and the recently released collection, The Emily Fables. 

Claire Scott, "A Mote of Dust"

An award-winning poet and previous Pushcart Prize nominee, Scott's work has appeared in Atlanta Review, Bellevue Literary Review, Enizagam, Causeway Lit, and The Healing Muse, among others. She is the author of Waiting to be Called.
Raphael Helena Kosek,"Caregiver's Journal: How to Survive, or Not"

Kosek's work has appeared in many journals and magazines including Big Muddy Poetry East, The Chattahoochee Review, Catamaran, Still Point Arts Quarterly, and Southern Humanities Review. Her chapbook, Rough Grace, won the 2014 Concrete Wolf Chapbook Competition and one of her essays tied for first place in the 2016 Eastern Iowa Review Lyric Essay Contest. She teaches American Lit and Creative Writing at Marist College and Dutchess Community College.

Adrian S. Potter, "This is Not a Protest Poem"
Potter writes poetry and short fiction. He is the author of the fiction chapbook Survival Notes (Červená Barva Press, 2008) and winner of the 2010 Southern Illinois Writers Guild Poetry Contest. Some publication credits include North American Review, Obsidian, and Kansas City Voices. He posts, sometimes, on his blog.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Writing Memoir -- Where to Begin? Where to Stop?

by Creative Nonfiction Editor Susie H. Baxter

New writers often come to my classes on "writing memoir" wondering where to begin, how much to tell, and how to structure a memoir. "Don't start at the beginning," I tell them, since you cannot remember that day." There are, of course, exceptions to every rule: if one's mother died during childbirth, for example. Begin instead with a person or experience that had a significant impact on your life. Details about one's birth can be worked in later.

I had the same problems when I started my own memoir. I thought I would focus on my rural childhood (I grew up on a tobacco farm in North Florida). I could hardly wait to get away from the place and thought I would take the story up to the day I escaped as a bride.

In the end, my memoir does focus on my rural childhood. It begins in the dead of night when I was three years old (excerpt from Pumping Sunshine: A Memoir of My Rural Childhood):
    "Wake up girls! Get outta bed!" Daddy yelled. Awakened from a nightmare, my half-awake eyes searched the cold, dark room. Dim moonlight shining through the bare windows helped me make out Daddy's flailing silhouette as he yanked quilts off my sisters and me. He grabbed my arm as I scrambled, trying to climb over Patsy and Anetha and off the cot we sisters shared. In my three years of life, I'd never been more scared. My heart pounded.
     That night had started out like any other.

     In the kitchen after supper, soapy water dripped from Mama's fingertips into the chipped enamel dishpan as she lifted her arm to brush loose strands of permed dark hair off her forehead. She couldn't stand hair in her face. Bangs like Patsy had would have annoyed Mama no end. Curls like mine that dangled to my eyes? Pure torture for Mama.
     "C.G.," Mama called to Daddy. "How 'bout bringing in a washtub so the girls can take their baths by the fire?"
     Through the kitchen doorway, I had a clear view of Daddy, sitting in a straight-backed chair by the hearth. Logs blazed. Daddy was studying a lesson in his Sunday school book that lay atop his open Bible. Expecting him to look up and answer Mama any second, I stared at the crown of his head. His hair was nearly as dark as Mama's except when the sun or firelight hit it just right. Then, you could see sparkles of auburn. His barber clipped it short, as if Daddy still trained with the Florida National Guard. With his hair only an inch long, he didn't need to plaster it down with Brylcreem the way most men at church did theirs. Daddy didn't even need to comb his. You couldn't tell if he did or didn't.

     Daddy had been talking about adding a kitchen sink and pipes that would bring well water into the house and take it out again -- "indoor plumbing," he called it. Our grandparents, who lived just up the road, had all that in their new house, built in 1944, the year I was born. They even had an indoor toilet!
My childhood memoir does not, however, extend to the day I became a bride. I wrote the stories out of sequence -- almost anything that came to mind. Deciding later what to include, what to leave out, and when to stop the memoir were my big challenges.

Eventually, the stories themselves dictated where the end should be, making me stop before I had even met the man I would marry. So, I say to those beginning a memoir, just keep writing your stories; the story itself will help you figure it out.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

A Mouthpiece to the Sacred

by Editor in Chief Mary Bast 
The idea of human memory as a folded or patchwork process is familiar to those who read and write braided essays . . . the "threads" combine thematically to form a more complete and pliable piece of nonfiction . . . in handfuls that don't abide by chronological time. Sarah Minor, "What Quilting and Embroidery Can Teach Us About Narrative Form, Literary Hub, 9/22/17.
The best memoir has a clear focus, theme, and takeaway -- something heartfelt, universal, and true. But if recollections are forced to be linear and sequential, there's a risk of oversimplifying the complicated tapestry of life. And this is true not only of nonfiction. Contemporary novels have also left the sequential story structure behind, some by alternating points in time, some by alternating chapters by different characters, the strands then formally braided or at least implied. One fine example is Barbara Kingsolver's The Poisonwood Bible, a tapestry woven from five voices: Orleanna, Leah, Ruth May, Rachel, and Adah.

Writing about this technique in creative nonfiction, Brenda Miller suggests braiding isn't simply a mosaic with fragmented and juxtaposed pieces:
. . . it has more of a sense of weaving about it, of interruption and continuation, like the braiding of bread . . . What I'm hoping is that by the eating of this bread together we begin to respond to a hunger unsatisfied by everyday food, unvoiced in everyday language. We'll begin to formulate a few separate strands; we'll mull them over, roll them in our hands, and bring them together in a pattern that acts as a mouthpiece to the sacred. "A Braided Heart: Shaping the Lyric Essay," pp. 14-24, Writing Creative Nonfiction, Carolyn Forché and Philip Gerard (Eds)
Its break from traditional sequencing is one of the many attractions of Emily Hipchen's memoir, Coming Apart Together: Fragments from an Adoption. Even her title evokes an image of parting and reweaving. Readers will admire her writerly brilliance and identify with her experience even if not an adoptive parent or adopted child. One needn't have had a wild and crazy childhood in Texas to fall in love with Mary Karr's The Liar's Club or been a poverty-stricken boy in Ireland to be fascinated by Frank McCourt's Angela's Ashes.

The following excerpts from Hipchen's memoir show what Brenda Miller describes in "A Braided Heart" as ". . . separate parts intersecting, creating the illusion of wholeness, but with the oh-so-pleasurable texture of separation."

An early strand in the book is from the author's near present:
Fifteen days ago came the call . . . What I hear is a woman's voice. I immediately think "New York." I immediately think "foreign, unknown, stranger," and tune out all but anything that might be important. The timbre of the voice is deep, it has a girlishness to it though, an under-giggle of helium, so I think "young" . . ." Your father my husband and I would like to talk to you. Will you call us? . . . "We love you very much." There are beeps almost as meaningful as what she says, a hiss of tape. Who loves me? Who. I replay and replay, working the pieces together.
Soon we read a strand from her imagined infant self, only six months after her birth:
Six months ago I was born. Six months ago I was named Mary Beth Delany by the woman who labored thirty-six hours in darkness and daylight to have me and then let me go . . . She set her face into the winter light, moved her left leg, her right leg, and found that she was walking . . .  and from the arms of a nun I stretched out my sloppy fists and smiled toothlessly, grinned and grinned and grinned as I did for every stranger, since everyone was a stranger . . . and they took me into their family, and began calling me . . . Emily. Their daughter.
Then we're back to a near-present strand:
On one of the first days I have contact with Anna and Joe, my father explains about sports . . . He unwraps his arm and stretches it across the table as if the limb were my gift . . . And says, "These are pitchers' arms." And says, "These are your arms." They are, emphatically.
Another strand from the past, when the author was in elementary school:
In fourth grade was the Mendel project. Genetics. Monks and sweet peas. The project consisted of this: a worksheet on which each student was to record all the ways in which he or she resembled his or her parents . . . I told the truth: I was adopted . . . Thus verified, I was given something else to do. I sat all week alone . . . dreaming of my birth-mother coming to gather me . . . .
And a strand that holds both present and past:
I can remember being a child and dreaming my imagined mother alive . . . a better mother than mine, not so short-tempered, not so difficult to understand, not so other-than-me . . . But this is what I struggle with now, here, since it seems paradoxical, since it violates some substratum of feeling I can't yet excavate: for all the trouble I've had and caused, for all that it's taken me to get here, to be thirty-five years old, to be what I am, I can't wish the undoing of it, of any of it. To do so would unmake me.
A later strand frames an internal braiding of the author's own story with that of her newly discovered Aunt Elizabeth:
I am the daughter Anna's sister Elizabeth never had . . . I tell her, "It is difficult, you know, seeing my face walking around everywhere else. After all these years of not knowing . . . [Joe] says Aunt Beth ran away from her family when she was eighteen. . . [her story] becomes the companion piece to my own leaving, it has motives I comprehend . . . the powerful sense of having some control over one's own destiny. . . Our stories overlap and braid . . like mine, her father was violent and controlling. . .
As we near the end, Hipchen reflects on the various parts of her braid:
I wonder, as I sit writing this, this the story of one event's impact, how much of my understanding of what happens to me and to everyone else is really more just our seeing, through the dimness in which we sit, the shadowy outlines of things passing by rolled-up windows, too fast really to be more than blurs, too unfamiliar to be anything but what we imagine them to be? 
Bit by bit, she weaves all together, admitting that some of her braided work must be imagined:
. . . The woman who gave birth to me, the man who helped make me, and the five children they had after me became names and faces to me, exited my unconscious and became incarnate . . . The struggle is in telling a true story when there are so many different kinds of truth, so many different angles, voices, possibilities, nothing linear, nothing really straight and tellable . . . How impossible it all is . . . But you know that's the thing about telling a true story, I think. Usually, to tell it at all sensibly, actually say what's true, you have to line up the bits and pieces you can just about see distinctly and imagine the rest.
Finally, I could find no better mouthpiece to the sacred in this compelling memoir than Emily Hipchen's own words:
We are all children looking for our lost parents. Or lost parents, looking for our children.

". . . Read this book if you want to understand and experience the tangled knot of love, anger, self-doubt, and courage at the heart of adoption memoirs. . . ." ~ Rebecca Hogan, Editor of a/b: Auto/Biography Studies and Professor of English and Women's Studies, University of Wisconsin-Whitewater

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Bacopa Literary Review 2017: From the Editor

The intersection of arts and political activism are two fields defined by a shared focus of creating engagement that shifts boundaries, changes relationships and creates new paradigms... a space where valuable insight can be found through reflection and sharing.
~ Art and Politics, The Power of Creativity and Activism Across the Globe," Annette Blum, Huffington Post, THE BLOG, 03/21/2016.

We live in an age of environmental concerns, political dissent, divisiveness, war, discrimination, and suffering made personal by instant internet access. No wonder poets, writers, and artists seek meaning and provide inspiration through their creative efforts. Certainly our 2017 contributors have rendered art that will bring readers inside life's deepest truths.

Delving first into the deeper blues, whether reading of the unknown lost, the well-known, or those known only to our writers--fathers, mothers, siblings, children, friends--you'll wonder if your heart's response is more joy or sorrow or a mix of both. Omit the sparrow and the thought / of bird remains. . . So it is with loss, writes Sally Zakariya. (Click here and scroll down to "Up From the Tropics" to see "Theory of Omission," from which these lines are borrowed.)

Exploring life's unexpected bits of sweetness, we admire the wild bite of stars, hug a baby close against fears of an unknown future, heal addiction in our dreams, recall as children how we were good help even though we also peed in the family pool, remember vividly such characters as Stephanie Dickinson's Velma, whose voice was a laughing gull's.

We still believe in love, that feeling every time you dazzle in the shine of someone new, being touched as if our scars are beautiful, even when love is like a blade, when we fear we might drown, when we pay a fine, when we ponder ways to lose a guy/girl. And we hope, with Tamara Adelman, that being alone with a lover in nature will provide some reassurances.

Our contributors, at liberty to sink caution, bemoan news that's about what sells, lying to ourselves while others wake up to violent explosions. They grieve coming-out children who hear echoes of "abomination," challenge the message for young girls to be patient and pretty and sending boys to war who would rather be foraging for berries. Then a reprieve in "The Soloist" by Andrew Brown: What would divide us meets in her radiant throat.

These writers and poets are concerned about earth's well-being, the only home you ever knew. In a world that's ending, just once more, as though any generation could avoid its end by consuming the next, mothers carry their children through waist-high water, streets full of soda cans and road signs, trees uprooted like a jumble of giant pick-up sticks. Still, some believe this is only a test. We are lulled by the blue rush of the surf and we nail old shoes in trees for homeless birds to live in. If anyone felt desire, Clif Mason assures us, the wind would blow again.

The final section features work where buzzing of bumblebees is the soundtrack, their honey a sovereign remedy, a muffle-hush falling when mountains breathe mist. While driving in boiling turnpike traffic we see: Suddenly--sheep!  We feel with each bloom its thin green legs, see hummingbirds careen in plein air, watch the powdery glitter of snow. We believe, with Jim Johnston, that the seeds of courage are planted in darkness, and from there they must grow. . . if we do not want to call the darkness home.

May the artful reflections of contributors to Bacopa Literary Review 2017 bring you valuable insights in our tumultuous times.

Editor in Chief
Bacopa Literary Review

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Against the Storm: We Are Dazzled by Love

by Editor in Chief Mary Bast
The question of whether climate change "caused" any particular weather event is the wrong one; instead, we must probe how climate change alters extreme weather. Aside from the warming atmosphere, rising sea levels and surface ocean warming have likely contributed to the impact of both Irma and Harvey. Dann Mitchell, NERC Research Fellow at the University of Bristol's Cabot Institute.
Here in Gainesville, Florida, as we prepare for the impact of Irma, it's difficult to concentrate on anything. And yet it seems the perfect time to reiterate our theme of the intersection of art and activism, time to remember that art "mirrors the aesthetic standard of the day and also provides a window into the historic context of the time." A vital part of that context is the element of love, stories of human connection, of friendship, helping, and heroism amidst the storms.

I had hurt my back carrying bags of canned food in from the car and was dreading bringing in everything from the patio; at that moment there was a knock on the door and a member of our maintenance team brought in everything for me. One of my friends was shopping for plywood to board up the window in her 95-year-old mother's room when she noticed two young men who live near her; they returned with her and helped her board up the window. I read about a woman who needed a generator for her father's oxygen machine in case their power fails; the man who had just picked up the last generator gave her his, and she fell into his arms, weeping.

We at Bacopa Literary Review believe in love, we love Ellaraine Lockie's poem "In the Friendship Lab," featured in our 2017 issue, and we invite you to remember the power of love, "every time you dazzle in the shine of someone new . . .
If it overflows, be like the flower it waters
when you meet someone worth unfolding for . . ."

Sunday, August 27, 2017

The Emperor Has No Clothes

by Editor in Chief Mary Bast
We may feel the need to be that voice crying out. . . "The emperor has no clothes!" Most of us will not be spearheading protest marches. . . masterminding boycotts. . . or leading the charge against oil exploitation. But we do what we can. We write. (Mary Pipher, PhD, Writing to Change the World, pp. 29-30)
You remember the Hans Christian Andersen story, "The Emperor's New Clothes," a cautionary tale about the danger of believing what's not real: Caring only about his appearance in the finest clothes, this Emperor's vanity led him to believe a couple of swindlers who told him they could weave clothes in which he'd be invisible to those unfit for office or unusually stupid. He thought he'd be able to determine who in his empire was unfit.

Of course, neither he nor anyone else could see the clothes but all were unwilling to admit they could be unfit or stupid. Finally, as he rode through town a little child said, "But he hasn't got anything on!" Only then would others acknowledge the reality.

This tale signifies the importance of speaking the truth when we see it, no matter what the social pressures. And nothing is more powerful than communicating at a symbolic level. When we look at our planet's increasingly failing capacity to support us, for example, we're appalled to note how many people still insist they're seeing the emperor's fine new clothes. How can writers and poets convince others of the naked truth in time to make a difference?

Perhaps by transporting readers into a starkly imagined future in earth's "silent periphery / on one of the cooler planets / far removed from walls and barbed wire / crosshatches of lies and alternative facts . . ." (from Poetry First Prize winner Claire Scott's "A Mote of Dust" in Bacopa 2017).

More about the intersection of art and activism to follow.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

This Poem is Not a Political Protest, or is it?

by Editor in Chief Mary Bast
If you are a person who truly cares about the environment or politics or equality in matters of race or gender . . . these concerns will naturally emerge in your poems. Your only job is to follow your instinctive, personal, idiosyncratic sense . . . and to see what emerges . . . "What Poetry Can Teach Us About Power: Political Poems Use Language in a Way Distinct From Rhetoric." Matthew Zapruder, Literary Hub,  August 16, 2017
The article above points out the danger when poets try to consciously bend their work to a political message. The author quotes Keats: "We hate poetry that has a palpable design on us." Instead, the most powerful poems carry a political message by re-enlivening and reactivating language in a way that invites attention and raises awareness.

Such is the power of Adrian S. Potter's "This is Not a Protest Poem," Bacopa Literary Review 2017's Poetry Honorable Mention. Poetry Editor J.N. Fishhawk and I loved this poem from the title alone, knowing Potter would reactivate the meaning of "this is NOT."  Instead readers are simply invited to watch . . .
a grown man shooting baskets
at a deserted playground
under partly sunny skies.
"This poem is not a metaphor," the poet assures us, "not code / for some political agenda," It's "not an allegory / about activists and antagonists." Yet readers will not be able to forget this "quiet guy practicing / shoulder fakes, pivots, and drop steps . . ."

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

From The Dark Side

by Editor in Chief Mary Bast
The intersection of arts and political activism are two fields defined by a shared focus of creating engagement that shifts boundaries, changes relationships and creates new paradigms . . . "Art and Politics, The Power of Creativity and Activism Across the Globe," Annette Blum, Huffington Post, THE BLOG, 03/21/2016.
It's intriguing to ponder how art itself can take an activist stance, rally followers, change minds, shift people into new ways of thinking. That's the theme you'll find in this year's Bacopa Literary Review, now available at

It's immediately obvious that persuasive writing can influence thinking through rational means. We can also give voice to the voiceless, instigating empathy and compassion from readers by providing an inside view of experiences completely different from our own. Even more subtly, our metaphors can act quietly below the level of rationality's conscious defenses.

The metaphor of "dark matter," for example, describes all we cannot see, known only through astrophysicists' math. We writers can support more obvious activism by planting our metaphors outside the spotlight, part of the dark matter of raising consciousness.

This is exactly where you'll be left after reading our concluding piece, Jim Johnston's "Dark Water, Silent Grace." Ostensibly about a boy's experience in the lake at camp, persuaded by older boys to take a frightening dive into murky waters, the subtle undercurrent of this piece will tow readers to Johnston's deeper message, "how the seeds of courage are planted in darkness."

Bacopa Literary Review 2017 now available at

More about the intersection of art and activism to follow.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

2017 Bacopa Literary Review Prize Winners

Congratulations to our 2017 Bacopa Literary Review prize winners:

Flash Story Prize: "Excerpts From the Trakl Diaries"
Stephanie Emily Dickinson

In this four-part flash, Stephanie Emily Dickinson "explores and illuminates the short and tumultuous life of the brilliant Expressionist poet, Georg Trakl (1887-1914). Born into a middle-class Austrian family, this towering visionary fought the demons of mental illness and drug addiction before committing suicide in Krakow at age 27."

An Iowa native, Dickinson lives in New York City. Her novel Half Girl and novella Lust Series are published by Spuyten Duyvil, as is her Love Highway, based on the 2006 Jennifer Moore murder. Her other books include Port Authority Orchids, Heat: An Interview with Jean Seberg, and the recently released collection, The Emily Fables.

Poetry Prize: "A Mote of Dust"
Claire Scott

According to some, "Our time here on earth is finite, and we better find our way off it sooner rather than later." Claire Scott's poem pulls us into that future: "have you thoughts of moving to Saturn / or Neptune or even Pluto / . . . maybe one night you will look out / and see a pale dot / a mote of dust in the night sky. . ."

An award-winning poet and Pushcart Prize nominee, Scott's work has appeared in Atlanta Review, Bellevue Literary Review, Enizagam, Causeway Lit, and The Healing Muse, among others. She is the author of Waiting to be Called.

Creative Nonfiction Prize: "Caregiver's Journal: How to Survive, or Not"
Raphael Helena Kosek

"One of the most honest and heartfelt pieces I've ever written," says Raphael Helena Kosek of her "Caregiver's Journal: How to Survive, or Not."

Kosek's work has appeared in many journals and magazines including Big Muddy Poetry East, The Chattahoochee Review, Catamaran, Still Point Arts Quarterly, and Southern Humanities Review. Her chapbook, Rough Grace, won the 2014 Concrete Wolf Chapbook Competition and one of her essays tied for first place in the 2016 Eastern Iowa Review Lyric Essay Contest. She teaches American Lit and Creative Writing at Marist College and Dutchess Community College.

Fiction Prize: "Ignis Fatuus, and More, at Eleven"
Chad W. Lutz

"Ignis Fatuus, or 'foolish fire' (because of its erratic movement). 1. a flitting, phosphorescent light seen at night, believed to be due to spontaneous combustion of gas from decomposed organic matter. 2. Something deluding or misleading."

Chad W. Lutz is a runner, and you should be prepared for a read that will leave you breathless. Currently enrolled at Mills College in Oakland, California, and working toward an MFA in Creative Writing (Fiction), Lutz's 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, July 18, 2017

2017 Bacopa Literary Review Honorable Mention

Congratulations to Bacopa Literary Review 2017 Honorable Mention winners:

Poetry Honorable Mention: "This is Not a Protest Poem"
Adrian S. Potter

Adrian S. Potter writes poetry and short fiction. He is the author of the fiction chapbook Survival Notes (Červená Barva Press, 2008) and winner of the 2010 Southern Illinois Writers Guild Poetry Contest. Some publication credits include North American Review, Obsidian, and Kansas City Voices. He posts, sometimes, on his blog.

Fiction Honorable Mention: "Cry on Command"

Joe Dornich

Joe Dornich is a PhD candidate in Texas Tech's creative writing program, where he also serves as Managing Editor for Iron Horse Literary Review. His publications include Word Riot and Cahoodaloodaling.

Creative Nonfiction Honorable Mention: "Starvation"

Paddy Reid

Paddy Reid writes about army deserters in wartime, men such as his father, and the consequences for their families. He welcomes readers' feedback to his email address.

Flash Story Honorable Mention: "Terminal Trance"

Charlotte M. Porter

Charlotte M. Porter, published poet and award-winning fiction writer, lives in an old citrus hamlet in north central Florida. Enjoy her recent short fiction in Axolotl and her novella, Agnes Person, currently serialized by Visitant Lit. She is readying Falling from Grace, a short story collection, for press.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Audacious Ekphrasis

by Bacopa Senior Editor Mary Bast

If you want to know more about me, Googling Mary Bast will first evoke echoes of my other life as an Enneagram coach and related books. But I've also written flash memoir and several forms of poetry including found poetry and 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 like the most open, contemporary version best:
Ekphrasis: the intersection of verbal and visual arts.
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
As a visual artist I've explored other 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," then reacted to my painting with the poem "Backdraft." Most recently I've begun a series of ekphrastic text & image works.

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.      

Leave a Trace of a Time and a Place

by Creative Nonfiction Editor Susie Baxter

Back in the 1990s when I was an acquisitions editor at Mosby, a health-science publishing house in St. Louis, a colleague gave me a tiny pillow on which she'd cross-stitched: "So many books . . . so little time." So true.

Frankly, I started out far behind most readers. As a youngster, 18 miles separated our home from the nearest library, and for several years our family owned no vehicle. Granted, we did have our own home library: Louisa May Alcott's Little Women, Dad's high school world history book, a storybook of tales like "The Three Little Pigs," the Sears and Roebuck catalog, and five copies of the Holy Bible . . . It wasn't until I read Daphne du Maurier's Rebecca in high school that I fell in love with reading. 

The thought of becoming a writer myself never occurred to me until I lost my beloved grandmother. I decided I had to write about her, which led to writing down more and more memories, and eventually offering workshops to help others record their stories.

I think of myself as a recorder of history, leaving a trace of a time and a place that is no more, such as the Suwannee River flood of 1948:
Water began seeping up through the ground in early '48, the year Granny died, just as the onion sets were sending up healthy-looking green spikes . . . Since we'd become accustomed to seeing the river rise and fall, a little bit of water around the onions didn't seem like a big deal. After all, Daddy had planted at the right time; he relied on the Farmers' Almanac, which told him when the moon and stars were in the right positions for planting.

The almanac didn't tell him where to plant, though, and that year he'd planted the onions--five acres of them--on the lowest spot of ground on our property, an area we called "the bottom" . . . dark, fertile soil, unlike the dirt elsewhere on the place, which was similar to the white sand along Florida's beaches . . . 

Daddy rotated the crops every year to prevent disease, and that year he decided to plant the tobacco next to the onions . . . Mama and Daddy led the way along each row. Mama walked backward, facing Daddy, and we girls followed. Mama carried the plants in a cloth bag slung over one shoulder. She dropped the plants, one at a time, into the metal "tobacco setter," the planter Daddy toted . . .
Some farmers in the area owned modern planters that were pulled by tractors. The planting process, for us, was entirely manual, but the five of us moved together like a machine: 
     Drop plant. Drop setter. Squeeze lever. Step forward. Pack dirt.
Though it took less than ten seconds to put each plant into the ground, planting two or three acres took days.
By the time we finished that year's tobacco planting, water covered most of the nearby onion crop. Daddy said the onions might not make it, but then joked that we now owned "lake front" property.
Mama didn't even smile . . . She had never told us that when she was seven years old, she'd seen the Suwannee River flood the crops. "I spotted the very first sign of the 1928 flood," she told us later. "I noticed water seeping up from insect and gopher holes in the railroad ditch where I played."
Susie Baxter's memoir Pumping Sunshine: A Memoir of My Rural Childhood, is now available at You can benefit from her experience as memoir writer and teacher with her recent book, Write Your Memoir: One Step at a Time.

Baxter says "The creative nonfiction Bacopa Literary Review publishes has a moving inner voice. It holds to the same standards as other literary forms while remaining grounded in fact." Examples here, here, here, here, here, and here.  

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Not Someday. Now.

by Associate Editor Cynthia D. Bertelsen

I began my writing life thanks to some little green men.

One morning, it was spring, I think, Mr. Richard Hawthorne, the only male teacher in the whole of Franklin Elementary School, asked my sixth-grade class to write short stories.

"About anything you want to write, that's it" he told us as he shuffled piles of papers on his old oak desk, as big as a small rowboat. I scrunched down in my seat at the back of the room, aimlessly pushing a pencil across the top of the lined paper in my three-ring binder notebook. My seat mate, Sarah, gnawed the pink eraser at the end of her pencil. We glanced at each other with a look that only best friends share. Today we'd probably say, "WTF," but then we just shrugged.

Sarah's green sweater fit a bit snug across her chest, the white plastic buttons gaping a bit here and there when she raised her shoulders. In that moment, with the flash of green, I knew what my story would be about. The little green men from one of my brother's sci-fi comic books I'd swiped a few days earlier, that's what. In big rounded letters of preadolescence cursive, I painted a word picture of the gleaming steel curves of a space ship manned by green men as tall as my three-year-old baby sister. I made sure to mention the cool reptilian texture of a green man's hand. The real story began when two little girls stepped into the silvery ship, which whisked them off to another planet, one thick with lush jungley plants, ponds burbling with water as clear as glass, and blueberry-dark skies. School didn't exist in that fabled place, because with one intramuscular injection of some mysterious substance, the girls became wise and learned and all-knowing in an instant.

Mr. Hawthorne wrote at the top of the first page of my story, "My wife and I loved your story. Keep writing. A+"

And I tried.

I yearned to live life as defined by Annie Dillard in The Writing Life. I hung onto a tattered copy of Brenda Ueland's If You Want to Write through countless moves, from Gainesville, Florida to Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso and back again. For a long time, I thought of writing as frivolous, because I knew that doing what I loved did not necessarily mean the money would follow. The dollar sign turned out to be my biggest stumbling block. At times, rarely, money exchanged hands. Rejection letters piled up, too. I identified fiercely with a comment that Colombian writer Gabriel Garcia Márquez made to his mother, "After all, there are better ways to starve to death [than being a writer]."

It took a daunting bout of illness to wake me up.

I could no longer say, "No, not today. Someday, yes."

In other words, when the surgeon leaned over me in the O.R. and whispered, "Here we go," I stopped being a Someday Writer.

My preferred genre is creative nonfiction, in the form of essays laced with elements of storytelling. I've indulged that tendency in work such as "Why I Write, with Apologies to George Orwell," as well as in many articles and book reviews.
I could spend all my time reading what other people say about the world and what's in it and never write a word about myself, joining the passivity parade of today's technological culture. But if I don't write, I feel a weakness of spirit, a sense of Ennui spreading its wings and enveloping me in a vampiric kiss. I lose my juice, so to speak. On a day when I sit at the keyboard and finish what I start, well, that's a day filled with light, even if clouds strangle the sun and rain bleeds all over everything.
Fiction lured me, too. I'm hoarding an as-yet-unpublished novel following the trans-Atlantic journey of an English cunning woman, or witch in the parlance of some:
          That night had been a cold one, as a December evening would be in Colchester. She remembered the clip-clop of the horses' hooves, prancing into the village from the fields, their breath frothy and misting in the freezing air. Clutching Old Hortense's grimoire to her chest like a sick child, she'd patted the book of spells from time to time, as if to calm its grief at the death of its mistress. Julian detected an odd odor about it, too, a puzzling fragrance, of what exactly she knew not. It took the shape of a living being, nestled in her arms.
As a writer, and avid reader, I seek the telling detail, the lingual equivalent of what French photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson called the "decisive moment." Such a technique captures the essence of a character or place or an emotion in a flash, creating work that transcends the ordinary.

Those extraordinary little green men, as it turns out, taught me a lot about writing.

It is a lifelong process.

Writer and photographer Cynthia Bertelsen has published essays, book reviews, and photographs, both online and in print. Her book, Mushroom: A Global History, sprouted from her blog, "Gherkins & Tomatoes," while her magical realism novel-in-progress grew from the roots of medieval mysticism and herbal healing. For inspiration, she draws upon her experiences living and working in Mexico, Paraguay, Honduras, Haiti, Morocco, Burkina Faso, and France.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Flash is No Longer Only Fiction. . .

By Flash Story Editor Kaye Linden

Bacopa Literary Review 2017 submissions included "flash story," which can include creative nonfiction, memoir, fiction or a combination of these genres in 750 words or less, including micro-flash which might consist of 250 words or even fewer.

The criteria I look for in a flash story submission include these:
  1. Creative nonfiction, memoir, fiction, or a combination of these genres
  2. Tiny plot or character driven
  3. Compression: almost every word counts or carries meaning  
  4. A minimum of adverbs
  5. Focus on one scene or event
  6. A minimum of dialogue
  7. A great title
  8. Consistency of tense and point of view
  9. Fresh expressions without the use of cliches
  10. Riveting language or language that moves the reader
  11. Originality
  12. Story structure: a purpose, a beginning, middle and end with conflict, conflict, conflict and resolution.
Here's an example of my own 376-word flash story, written in response to the newspaper article cited below: 

The Future Legend of How Rising Seas Drowned Saint Augustine and its Famous Statue*
The first grain of sand to go slipped unnoticed into muddy seawater and high tide washed a small chunk from the base of Ponce de Leon's statue. Three teenage boys waded to the town plaza, climbed to the top of Ponce's helmeted head and practiced kissing his cold lips, slapping his face when Ponce didn't kiss back, and hanging upside down from the old head that bowed in shame at the youthful play. Perhaps Ponce felt jealous of young muscles and flexible limbs, or of the strength to climb statues and throw popcorn and peanuts from his slumped unyoung shoulders. He never did find the fountain, and with the Atlantic tide rising, rising, rising, his steel boots sucked down further, awash in brine. The boys knew, and Ponce knew, he was going under. Each evening the boys chopped off a finger, a thumb, a toe and the middle finger of the right hand became a tool to gouge out an eye, graffiti the shiny armor with she loves me, she loves me not, and scratch mud daubers and wasps from Ponce's ears. They removed one earlobe with the sawing up and down, down and up motion of a hacksaw, laughing at the crumbling little man as he lost one appendage at a time. The boys removed the mighty sword from the gallant gentleman and topped his head with the blade in a decapitation celebration, the step-by-step ritual of taking a great warrior down. Water washed over Ponce's knees while grains of stone fell away from the foundation in greater and greater chunks until Ponce leaned upside down, headless shoulders standing in water. One night, the boys stretched out drunk, across the rubble, across the broken fingers and toes, across the scraps of Ponce's heroic eyes, those eyes that once upon a time surveyed the fertile flowering of La Florida where surely his immortality lay.
        The water rose and rose and rose during the hurricane of 2019, a category six travesty, off the grid, never before witnessed, never before seen by the boys who drowned that night, never before seen by the city of Saint Augustine that drowned that night, never before seen by Ponce de Leon, whose hopes for a bright future drowned in rising seas.
*The Gainesville Sun, Florida, May 10, 2015: "Sea rise threatens Florida coast but no statewide plan"

See also: "How Can a Mother?"

Other Resources:
  1. Micro Fiction: An Anthology of Fifty Really Short Stories, edited by Jerome Stern. New York, N.Y.: W.W. Norton & Co., 1996. Print.
  2. The Rose Metal Press Field Guide to Writing Flash Fiction: Tips from Editors, Teachers, and Writers in the Field. Masih, Tara L. Brookline, MA: Rose Metal, 2009. Print.
  3. The Rose Metal Press Field Guide to Writing Flash Nonfiction: Advice and Essential Exercises from Respected Writers, Editors, and Teachers. Moore, Dinty W. Brookline, MA: Rose Metal, 2012. Print. 
  4. As this form can flash short and with impact, I refer readers to "Six One-Sentence Stories" by Bruce Holland Rogers. 

Thursday, July 13, 2017

35 Tips for Writing Flash: Four Keys to Revision & Writing Prose Poetry

Bacopa Literary Review Flash Story Editor Kaye Linden generously shares chapters from her book, 35 Tips for Writing a Brilliant Flash Story: a Manual of Flash Fiction and Nonfiction Writing.

CHAPTER 1 ("Small Frame")  
CHAPTERS 2 & 3 ("The House Theory" & "Slice-of-Life Stories")
CHAPTERS 4 & 5 ("Compression, Minimalism" & "A Striking Title")
CHAPTERS 6 & 7 ("First Few Lines" & "I Want It But I Can't Have It...")
CHAPTERS 8 & 9 ("Kaye's Rule of Six C's" & "Compressed Scene/Story Line")
CHAPTERS 10 & 11 ("Stimulus/Response, Chronological Order" & "Whose Story Is it?")
CHAPTERS 12 & 13 ("Moving the Story Forward" & "The Shape of Flash")
CHAPTERS 14 & 15 ("Consequences of Desire Thwarted" & "Characters")
CHAPTERS 16 & 17 ("Setting, Weather, and Crowds as Characters" & "A Sense of Meaning")
CHAPTERS 18 & 19 ("Point of View" & "Tense Choice")
CHAPTERS 20 & 21 ("The Ticking Clock" & "Chekhov's Gun")
CHAPTERS 22 & 23 ("Don't Underestimate Your Reader" & "Word Weight")
CHAPTERS 24 & 25 ("Concrete Details/Imagery" & "CUT Adverbs/Adjectives")
CHAPTERS 26 & 27 ("Dialogue" & "The Verb 'To Be'")
CHAPTERS 28 & 29 ("Subtext/Implication/Backstory" & "Myths and Tales")
CHAPTERS 30 &31 ("Surprise the Reader & "Sentence Structure/Phrases")
CHAPTERS 32 & 33 ("Fixed and Experimental Forms" & "Mastering the Genre")

 The Four Keys to Revision: C.O.A.P.

  • Cut: eliminate unnecessary words, backstory, fillers 
  • Organize: ideas into a consistent and cohesive story line 
  • Add: fill gaps in clarity, add a word or line of dialogue to clarify a confusing story 
  • Polish: Perfect the grammar, check for consistence in point of view and tense, and the story's clarity. Review all previous tips and apply to your story. Voila. Time to submit the story for publication!

A Few Tips About Prose Poetry

Length does not define prose poetry, but length is one parameter that defines flash stories.

Poetry is about language and poetic device such as similes, alliteration, sentence structure, broken lines, verses, imagery.

Language in flash is concise and intense as in poetry, but does not flow into poetic devices or employ traditional forms, such as villanelles or sonnets. However, one can experiment with fixed forms in flash.

Flash most often carries a story line involving conflict and a change in the main character or situation. Poetry need not.

Poetry emphasizes the placement of words and is defined by line breaks.

Narrative poetry, prose poetry, and flash stories can overlap.

In poetry, the description can be a technique in and of itself and offers an overall image for the reader. In flash, the description must advance the narrative.

Poetry need not and often does not contain a plot. Flash usually, but not always contains a compressed plot.

When readers pick up poetry, they have a different set of expectations than on reading flash stories. They expect a story when reading flash, but do not expect a story when reading poetry.

Prose poetry asks readers to lay aside their rules and judgment and prepare for a surprise, a wild ride. Readers must make larger jumps than with flash, and read more deeply into subtext.

Prose poetry lends itself well to experimental writing and mixed forms.

Above all, remember to read your work aloud because this is the best way to hear mistakes, catch skips in rhythm or misplaced beats, hear inconsistent pacing, tense or point of view shifts.

Feel free to visit Kaye Linden's web site, contact her there, and sign up for her blog.