Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Translating the Signs in Dragon Tongue

by Editor in Chief Mary Bast

In her acceptance letter to Bacopa Literary Review 2016 contributor Laura Madeline Wiseman for her prose poem, "Under the Frankincense Trees," Poetry Editor Kaye Linden wrote, "I congratulate you on this wonderful work. The profusion of imagery will offer a unique and unusual fantasy touch to Bacopa."

The genre of fantasy poetry is not yet fully delineated. Though you'll find references to the fantasy poetry of J.R.R. Tolkien and even W.B. Yeats, other terms for this genre are speculative poetry, science fiction poetry, and fantastic poetry.  

Fantastic poetry. The term is a perfect fit for Wiseman's tetralogy. Not only is this four-part prose poem fantastic, but it is in part responding to work by visual artists: ekphrastic. Section 1, for example (excerpts shown here) is in part a response to "Brer Rabbit's Hooch" by Jackson Zorn:
Brer Rabbit's Hooch, Jackson Zorn
There are trolls behind us. Don't, you say. I obey, refusing to turn around. I check my airflow, tap my chest computer, increase the volume on my headset. The only thing to hear is wind. There are trolls under Australian bridges, trolls on US highways, trolls in the tunnels of Russia . . . In Moscow they whispered something like Kozels, kozels, kozels . . . . I want to run. You want to stop this walking, your full-bearded face pinched. It's only wind, I say. You curse, call me rabbit, call me hooch, call me troll whore. I walk ahead, into the burn.

Sections II and III are in part responses to "Heart of the Dragon" and "Frankincense Tree" by Beth Moon.  Excerpts: 
After I married you, I put my troll dolls inside our holiday boxes, their plastic bodies among chipped bulbs, DIY ornaments, and mini-stockings for candy canes. Some of the trolls were scuffed. Some were gouged by teeth. Most had hair that teased into bright points . . . I search and search, but can't find the troll dolls. I put the mugs back, the tumblers, the dead fairy lights. I fold the Santa hats and stack the reindeer antlers. I listen for the skeet, unsure what you're hitting. Sometimes it sounds like screaming. I close the closet door.

Island of the Dragon's Blood, Beth Moon
When we arrive in this land of the Dragon, we don't know the trees, the burn of such heat, a place of no water. . . . Do not climb, you say, translating the signs in dragon tongue . . . . Trolls pace in circles, arms above their heads swaying. Some wear chains. Some groan . . . . I descend the trail, crouching in the shade. I remove the vials. I hammer in the spile to catch what will rise . . . . Raptors, you say and, We can't camp here. I watch the birds, their gripping dance . . . .
And from the final stanza:
To find trolls, strangers tell me of an island of myth, a place of cinnabar and incense burn . . . . They speak a twisting tongue, something gnarled, old. At the shoreline, small ships fight the winds that crash the docks. . . . Not here, they tell me. Soon, they say and build a fire at the base of a temple . . . . After a week of this circling, the meals of feta and fish, the strings of bartered dates, we arrive to the place of Frankincense trees. They give me the spile and I apply it to the trunk. Here? I ask. One sets up camp. The other holds the gun. When the stars come, the night thing begins again. I pray, just one repeating word inside the smoke.

Laura Madeline Wiseman teaches at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and is the author of more than twenty books and chapbooks. These include Through a Certain Forest (BlazeVOX, 2017), An Apparently Impossible Adventure (BlazeVOX, 2016), Leaves of Absence: An Illustrated Guide to Common Garden Affection (Red Dashboard, 2016), and Velocipede (Stephen F. Austin State University Press, 2017). Her collaborative book Intimates and Fools is an Honor Book for the 2015 Nebraska Book Award. Examples of her poems include Peacock Journal's "What They Do with our Nuts," "After They Cut Down Our Elder Willow," "The Terrific, Demon-Like Inhabitants of the Valley;" and Pithead Chapel's "Mad for a Century." Her collaborative poems with Andrea Blythe appear in Quail Bell Magazine: "Holding the Keys" and "The Hellos from the Corners of Quiet Rooms." 

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

In The Time It Takes To Snap A Photo

by Editor-in-Chief Mary Bast

What's the worst advice anyone ever gave you about writing? an interviewer for the NDR Blog asked Michael Farrell Smith (AKA Mike Smith of Albuquerque). "Kill your darlings," Mike said. "I hate it, I hate it . . . seriously, that's going to be your guiding creative metaphor, people? Baby murder? . . . what is artistic vision and creation but the process of giving life to a darling? To something only you can see and feel and understand, that you have to create in order for it to be real?"

Now you're beginning to get a feel for this one-of-a-kind writer who is both seriously trained (BS English, MFA Creative Writing) and an innovative rule-breaker whose life is devoted to "art and exploration." Mike describes his Bacopa 2016 piece, "--the Speed of Grass--the Speed of Us," as experimental nonfiction, a memoir of 1/60th of one second. A sentence fragment about a fragment of life. A memoir of the time it takes to snap a photo.

In his acceptance letter to Mike, Bacopa Literary Review 2016's Creative Nonfiction Editor Rick Sapp wrote: "Loved it, hated it, left me looking for a place to set it down, breathless and tired all at the same time. Joyce-ish in approach." Mike's memoir is indeed a lyrical, Joycean rush, well- deserving of comparison to the modernist, stream-of-consciousness genius, James Joyce, and that's why we've nominated it for a Pushcart Prize. Here's a sample; but you really want to read the original. It's quite literally breath-taking:
                                 --the Speed of Grass                                                                                                                                   --the Speed of Us
--a memoir--of a fraction of an instant--in a fraction of a place--an exploration--of something so fleeting--one sixtieth of one second--more momentary than a moment--a world of time in time--rushing--rushing--surging--flooding--from the sixtieth of a second that came before--toward--and into--the sixtieth of a second bound to follow--a progression--so inevitable--instantaneous--pure motion--whatever that is--the apparent motion of time--whatever that is--a moment--yes--a moment--make any choice within it--not consciously anyway--a moment like all moments--seemingly still--and yet made of movement--unstoppable--relentless--fast--something so small it is maybe only a description of something larger--one  sixtieth of one second--on maybe one quadrillionth of the surface of the Earth--an infinitesimal portion of all time and all space arbitrarily parceled away--held down--held close--by a piece of shining sidewalk--a trapezoid of growing lawn--a cracking concrete slab--and--along almost all that--by the front of a house--its eroding pin-orange bricks--its glistening white trim--its slumping screen door--the lawn settling up against it like a new broken wave--closing liquidly around a branching lavender bush--around greenery tangling beneath a faucet--around a snaking of garden hose--around two volcanic young elms rising uninvited from a grass-erupting flower box beside the slab--the slab a raft--and riding that raft--a family--a family of four--a woman--tall--my then-wife--then twenty-eight--legs crossed--crisscross applesauce--the kids would say--in green-strapped Teva sandals--bare legs--jean shorts--a green t-shirt--V-necked--green eyes--ponytail--hands on her legs--eyes and smile aiming up--and a man--me--taller--sitting slightly apart--my then-self--also twenty-eight--also cross-legged--also in Tevas--mine brown-strapped--in blue jeans with two fraying holes over one knee--in a soft blue shirt showing a screen-printed silhouette of power lines and two double-beamed utility poles--in rectangular wire eyeglasses--brown eyes--brown hair--sideburns--eyes and smile aiming up--and why were we smiling--did we feel anything--think anything--in that sixtieth of a second--that splinter of a splinter of the late-afternoon of August 18th--2008--and how could we have--in that emerging-evanescing--blooming--dyinginstant--thoughtless--emotionless--senseless--perspective-less--even with this persistent--unsettling--unverifiable sense that I did exist--was conscious--that everyone was--something sensed not in any sixtieth of a second but in bigger--baggier--more ill-fitting--times--in seconds--in minutes--this feeling that I was experiencing the world--that the woman--my wife--and our kids--and our cat--nearby--were experiencing the world--that all those plants were experiencing the world--shifting toward light--stretching toward water--displaying simple preferences and desires--but in this moment--only motion--hurtling--hurtling into something on our way toward . . . .

Michael Farrell Smith's work has been published in Tin House, New Delta Review ("101 Jokes for Epileptic Children"), Baltimore Review ("Notes from a Slowly Dying Suburbanite"), Booth ("Origins"), The 3288 Review ("The World Greening Wildly"), and elsewhere.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Cuffing Season

by Editor-in-Chief Mary Bast

Bacopa Literary Review 2016 is graced with diversity in many ways, including a wide range of age among our published authors. We've already toasted Pushcart Prize nominee Lynn Geri, who didn't begin writing until in her seventies. In this post we celebrate our youngest contributor, who was 15 years old when she submitted her talented and tormenting poem, "Cuffing Season."

Jenneh Montgomery, while a student at The Fine Arts Center in Greenville, South Carolina, won Honorable Mentions, Silver Keys, and one Gold Key for her poetry packet in the Scholastic Art and Writing Competion." The Gold Key piece, "Sestina an autobiography," went on to be judged nationally. She auditioned and was accepted to spend her junior and senior years of high school at the prestigious South Carolina Governor's School for the Arts and Humanities.

In most Editor's Blog posts celebrating Bacopa poets and writers, we show the author credits after the work. In this case, however, Jenneh's accomplishments have been listed first because you'll want to sit for a while and absorb the effects of this intelligent and gifted young poet's "Cuffing Season."
                Cuffing Season

My mother came with the dried leaves
and left in handcuffs. This was seasonal.
My brother's smile shifted into a thin line
when her knuckles pecked the door.
Winter was going to be harsh this year.
He could already see blizzards in her eyes.

My mother came with white ground
the year we were taken from her.
She buried our bodies under our bed.
We were found by men with badges.
My mother left in handcuffs again
and our bodies were given to our aunt.

My mother never came back one year.
My brother's smile stayed, but my gaze
stayed at the window hoping to see a blizzard.
The sky remained grey.

We once called her the black devil.
Then we were reminded by the devil himself
that she was our Mother.

Monday, February 6, 2017

Accepting the Color of Innards Inside the Slaughterhouse Bucket

by Bacopa Literary Review Editor in Chief Mary Bast

I'd like to introduce Shahé Mankerian's poem, "Fesenjān Fever," by giving readers insight into our editorial decision process. Here at Bacopa I trust the genre editors' experience and eye for good work and want them to have the last word about publication. If there's disagreement we have a discussion and try for consensus. We've also agreed that we don't want to risk losing good work to another journal by waiting until all submissions are in. So as the submission period goes on I keep an ongoing estimate of pages used by accepted pieces and pages still available. "Fesenjān Fever" was submitted a little more than six weeks before the submission period ended, and it took 2016 Poetry Editor Kaye Linden nine days to convince me we should accept it without waiting.

"Wow, this is pretty amazing," Kaye wrote on the day Mankerian's poem was submitted. "Repetition, visual imagery, concrete detail, concise and to the point, nice word choices, most lines ending on effective words. YES!"

On first reading I hesitated. "What happened to your distaste for 'you' and 'your,' Kaye? Yes it's concrete. Grotesquely so. I looked up Fesenjān -- it's a rich, tangy Iranian chicken stew flavored with pomegranate syrup. In Iran there are efforts to eliminate parasitic infection by 'condemning' animals and sending them to the slaughterhouse. I suspect the slaughterhouse in this poem is also a metaphor for Iranian slaughter. I need time to think about this one."

Kaye: "It's absolutely gross. That's the point. The second person point of view in this one does not bother me because it has attitude and it's a universal term, referring to the general culture. I love its raw edginess, the young voice, the imagery that disturbs. It's a courageous piece. People will hate it and love it." And she did accept Mankerian's poem, and I do love it:
                               Fesenjān Fever
When you're sick, mama's pomegranate syrup takes
the color of innards inside the slaughterhouse bucket.

The crushed walnuts snuggle between your teeth
and rub against the cavities. See the sautéed duck mimic

disfigured cardboards, replacements for window panes.
The caramelized onions float in the stew, then earthworms,

then onions, then earthworms. Mama drizzles pepper
like black rain. Nothing conceals the grotesque

when you're coughing bloody phlegm, not even
a teaspoon of sugar, not even a teaspoon of cinnamon.

The saffron threads dissolve like cigarette ash.
When you're sick, mama's pomegranate syrup takes

the color of innards inside the slaughterhouse bucket.

Shahé Mankerian's manuscript, History of Forgetfulness, has been a finalist at the 2013 Crab Orchard Series in Poetry Open Competition, the Patricia Bibby First Book Competition, the Quercus Review Press (Fall Poetry Book Award), and the 2014 White Pines Press Poetry Prize.

His collection "Children of Honey" is available here, and recent publications include "Reading the Residue" (Claudius Speaks), "Table Poems" (Proximity), "Mother Gives Dementia a New Name" (Armenian Poetry Project), four poems in Forage Poetry Journal ("50th," "Will," "Turkification in Istanbul," "Moses"), "Far From the Beanstalk: (Syntax), "Dear Mr. President" (Wordpeace), "Brioches in Beirut" (These Fragile Lilacs Poetry Journal), and many others. Mankerian is co-director of the Los Angeles Writing Project and an award-winning educator (Hovsepian School, Pasadena, California).

Friday, February 3, 2017

Dazzling, Pulse-Changing, Transformative

by Editor in Chief Mary Bast

Founded by Bill Henderson and published every year since 1976, the Pushcart Prize: Best of the Small presses series has become a highly honored literary project, an anthology of the best poetry, short fiction, and essays nominated by small press editors (up to six nominees) from work they've published over the previous year.

Poet and former Pushcart Prize poetry editor Jane Hirshfield describes the series as "a unique opportunity to try to bring a widened audience to a few poems I find dazzling, pulse-changing, transformative."

While "dazzling, pulse-changing, and transformative" weren't our exact words when first opening Lynn Geri's 2016 submission, 2016 Poetry Editor Kaye Linden and I came close, referring to "an incredible poetic voice, heartbreaking and powerful" and "definitely a WOW!" And we were in immediate agreement about including "Life of a Scion" among our Pushcart nominations. We don't know yet if Geri's dazzling poem will be selected for inclusion in the anthology, but we have no question that it's worthy of the wider audience served by the Pushcart Prize.

Life of a Scion watched too tightly
Against its Nature
by Lynn Geri

Strange face, smell, voice, touch, taste,
deranged wallpaper cats with big round eyes.
A new family. Smiles hold me too tight.
My second birth. They call me a scion.
I cry. Eyes watch. I disappear myself.
Mama, where are you mama?

                    A forsythia scion, cut last fall,
                    lies separate this spring,
                    unaware it is severed from its roots,
                    covers itself with yellow blossoms,
                    trying to grow.

Born bad, I eat too much, too little.
Yellow is wrong word, I can't have water.
I move. Straps hold me strong to the bed.
I try eyes open, closed. Don't bother.
"Bad seed." I speed. No need, I'm too slow.
Mommy, where are you? Mommy.

                    A cherry branch thought worthless,
                    pruned and discarded. By its nature
                    strives to grow, fails, tries again, again,
                    splurges on a mass of pink blossoms,
                    in one last struggle to bear fruit.

Terror of speaking, my eyes seek ground.
I climb trees, above their eyes. Years soar . . . 
I'm a cutting. My knife holds a woman,
behind a pink flowered bedroom door.
Bars slam shut. Prison guards watch.
Mom! Mom! Where are you? Mom?

                    A crab apple branch,
                    cut for forcing,
                    left too long without water,
                    buds dry, stem hardens,
                    unable to bloom.

You can't squeeze me. I seize time.
I point my watch's twig hands
toward my swinging feet. No one sees my
silent scream. As the twisted sheet bands,
eyelids close over me.
Mother,  do   you   see   me   now?   Mother.

Lynn Geri waited until she was into her seventh decade to take up the study of poetry. She has become deeply engaged with the beauty and romance of language. Lynn lives in a forest on Whidbey Island, in Washington State's Puget Sound. She is also to be published in Sonora Review.

More examples of poetry we've published: "Sestina: That mouth. . .," "Big Bang," "Under the Frankincense Tree," "cuffing season," "Fesenjān Fever," "Reading Between the Lines of A Tale of Two Cities: Imperial Germany 1918," "a prayer," "plummet," "What the Astronaut Said," "Wasp and Pear"