Monday, December 10, 2018

A Fast-Paced Ride

by Prose Poetry Editor Kaye Linden

Cynthia Roby won Bacopa Literary Review 2018's Prose Poetry Prize because of "U-Turn's" powerful voice: the vivid tapestry of sub-text, theme, word choice, visual and aural imagery, and minimal but effective dialogue produce a fast-paced ride that takes readers to the edge and leaves us there:

  Mami is driving. Straight. Fast. She has no license.
  No detenga el coche! I yell. Don't stop the car! I want her to drive
  to the end of the world. Her scarred brown knuckles turn white
  as she squeezes the steering wheel of Papi's prize: a 1956 Mercury Montclair.
  In the back seat, Felix and Edwin peel, squeeze, and suck sweet,
  sticky guavas. No napkins. This is an adventure.
  And this is why Papi will kill Mami dead.

The voice of the narrator comes through with a jittery, nervous cry for help that never arrives. Bordering on a flash story, this piece is a vignette that provides an implied story where readers fill in the gaps. The subtext, or implied information and backstory, is well-handled without offering us too many specifics or too much dialogue. This is a piece that fits the "diffusionist" category of mixed genre:

  We chase the 1 train north on Broadway to another world: The Bronx.
  The light quickly turns red at 145th Street. I squeeze my eyes shut and point.
  Mami slams her bare foot on the brake. Felix and Edwin scream.
  Mami holds out her arm; I don't hit the dashboard.
  The 1 train continues without us. Hey Jude is playing on the radio.
  Mami pounds her tiny fists on the steering wheel, curses my father: hijo de puta!
  Bruises on her wrists and neck are spilled paint:
  hues of red, black, blue, purple, and pain.
  Her eyes are ruddy worm-like slits
  wrapped in tar-black circles--like the tire swings
  behind our old house in La Romana.
  Papi es un monstruo, a monster. Mami kisses her crucifix.

  In La Romana Papi held Mami close; they danced bachata;
  he chased us around our leaky chabola, catching only her.
  Eres bella, he would say, tickling her waist; kissing her neck,
  her fingertips, her earlobe. We giggled.

"Bruises on her wrists and neck... Papi es un monstruo" gives us a clear visual of what kind of man "Papi" might be. However, Papi also "held Mami close; they danced bachata... tickling her waist, kissing her neck..." The juxtaposed scenes and theme of an abusive relationship bleed nicely into this piece, offering a clear picture of a family in crisis:

  The traffic light ticks, clicks hard;
  gives us permission to continue up Broadway.
  But Mami blinks hard, makes a sharp right and then another.
  The seat covers are polished floors. I slide beneath her armpit.
  Our boy hips collide. She squirms; grunts from Papi's old pain.
  Felix and Edwin tumble onto the floor. Scream. Drop what's left of
  sticky-fruit-Papi-will-kill-Mami-for onto no-longer-flawless upholstery.
  It's still an adventure.

  Mami! Que estas haciendo? I scream. What are you doing?
  Siga el tren 1! Follow the 1 train!
  Her face is wet. She leans her head back, screams,
  rocks back and forth. Drives faster.
  Dios mio! We're going back. Back to my wetting the mattress
  I share on the dining room floor with Felix and Edwin.
  Back to Mami forgiving Papi for being a pendejo. Back to the beatings
  and the screams in the night. Back to the mujeres malvadas
  and rum and parties and money and cars that have changed my Papi
  into someone I no longer like.

  Mami made a U-turn. And this is why Papi will kill her dead.

Mami's crazy driving epitomizes the speed at which such a family might "U-turn" between violence and a false sense of safety. Mami is angry at the "hijo de puta!" but during the insane ride, decides to make a U-turn back to Papi, who will "kill her dead." The author has captured the insanity of abuse within a tiny piece of writing. This takes precision of language and skill.

The visuals are prose-poetry-appropriate and paint an event with its backstory in medias res on a wild ride where the mother decides to head back "to the screams in the night... to the Papi I no longer like." Once we realize Mami is heading back to the violence, we feel the true chill of this amazing piece. Not only is Mami's driving endangering her kids, but now she is heading back to the original situation from which they fled. The train winds in and out of this narrative, emphasizing and symbolizing the threatening force of Papi. In addition, the vehicle Mami is driving offers no safety for the family. The vehicle and the train are fabulous metaphors for the instability and insanity of a family in chaos.

The circular motion and veering back and forth come through the language with a fast and breathless pacing. The first line comes like an unexpected punch--hard and fast, a set-up for the zigzagging and fast-paced movement. "Mami is driving. Straight. Fast. She has no license." What an excellent set-up for this piece.

"U-Turn" has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize Anthology XLIV by Pushcart Contributing Editor Carolyne Wright, also a former Bacopa contributor and Poetry prize winner.

 *     *     *
Cynthia Roby lives in Bronx, New York, where she works as an adjunct professor of academic writing. Her fiction, poetry, and essays have appeared in publications including The Penman Review ("Boomerang And Sadie," "Faltered Footwear"/"After My Five Cents, I Ran," "Lust"), The Lindenwood Review, Rat's Ass Review, Thrice Fiction, and Black Denim Lit. Cynthia earned her MFA from Lindenwood University. Find her on Twitter and her Amazon author page

Friday, November 23, 2018

She Said NO

(by Creative Nonfiction Editor Susie H. Baxter)

In her Creative Nonfiction Prize Winning work, "I Said No," Roberta Marstellar's words paint a tranquil picture of Tuscany as she eases the reader into a gripping story:
The picturesque Tuscan valley spread out like one of Mom's quilts, fields stitched together with black-green cypresses, billowing as if thrown over a giant's pillows...
The drama becomes more intense with each paragraph. There is no way readers could walk away from it without reading to the end, and the last line does not disappoint. A tale told with finesse and a thought-provoking ending you are not likely to forget. What follows are excerpts leading up to this short memoir's critical events: 
Rinaldo rumbled to a stop outside the window and smiled, an awkward smile the color of my morning's cappuccino... "Buon giorno," he said. I slammed the door and immediately regretted it. Washing crates was shit work, but he wasn't to blame.
      We flew down the gravel road, the farm filling our rear view... My gaze drifted left and caught Rinaldo scratching at this crotch. I snapped my head to the passenger window. He turned down a narrow road and reduced my view to nothing but vines... So much feels wrong I can't breathe. I slip my hand into my purse and fish around for my phone. When Rinaldo takes the next turn, I slide it out--no bars... "Be careful," I almost hear my husband Greg warning from five thousand miles away... my heart, wild with fear, inches up in my throat as Rinaldo approaches...
      "Tu riposo con me," he says and breaks into an awful smile. My head says run, but my body is frozen...
      I feel him on me, yet I'm watching it happen to someone else from a distance. Greg's voice comes through again, clear as a well this time, "Be careful!" My head oscillates back and forth like I'm shaking off a punch. Coming to, I jump back, waving my arms overhead like a referee. "NO! NO! NO!"....
(You can read what happened in Bacopa Literary Review 2018)
Roberta Marstellar is a writer and storyteller. Her career path is a circuitous one, defined by detours: Structural engineer—marketing specialist—finance manager—general contractor—food blogger—entrepreneur. Since the age of twelve, writing is the one endeavor Roberta has faithfully pursued. She lives in Chicago with her husband, two beehives, and a lifetime of books.

Sunday, October 7, 2018

Making the World Felt

By Senior Editor Mary Bast
"We do not feel strongly enough that we are part of a global community, part of a larger we . . . This is where art can make a difference . . . engaging with a good work of art can connect you to your senses, body, and mind. It can make the world felt." Alafus Eliasson, "Why art has the power to change the world," World Economic Forum,
This year's contributors in all genres reflected social issues as a felt experience, none more than Patrick Synan, winner of Bacopa Literary Review 2018's Poetry Prize for "Outside the Clinic." Synan paints the scene so clearly that without being told directly, we understand this woman waiting outside the clinic is poor and ill, driving a van she could only afford because it was auctioned off, and we cannot look away.

We know she's not one of the chosen ones (deadened to the weather / of the season and the soul...), but part of the rest of nature, rising to another chapter of slow death. And we readers--even if chosen ones driving a late-model car on our way to a private doctor--feel this woman's panic as she calls the same three names, knowing she won't get in today:

Patrick Synan is a young poet from New Hampshire who studied literature at Boston College and teaches in Boston. "Outside the Clinic" will be included in his forthcoming chapbook, The Walls Around the Ring (The Orchard Street Press Ltd)

Saturday, September 8, 2018

Deciphering: Layers Upon Layers of Art, Poetry, Art

by Senior Editor Mary Bast

I've written before of my love for ekphrasis, traditionally understood as poetry written in response to visual art. Wikipedia now more accurately describes the broader applications of ekphrasis: "Given the right circumstances, any art may describe any other art."

Thus my pleasure when Prose Poetry Editor Kaye Linden accepted Devon Balwit's ekphrastic poem for Bacopa Literary Review 2018, dedicated to the artist Melvin Way:

Melvin Way With One of His Poems
Seeing images of Way's work draws us deeper into Balwit's poem, especially the ending lines, You cannot look at surface only / but must dig down. Beneath is where you find / the much we rest on, the clamor, the ever- / multiplying root.

Balwit's title "Deciphering is Something Only I Can Do" echoes a line in Alanna Martinez's Observer article: "Deciphering the drawings is something only Mr. Way can do, but each is a sort of three dimensional thesis... compressed to four-inches-by-five-inches of a reused scrap of paper... a refined--almost elegant--haiku." Jerry Saltz, in "Studying the Masterpieces of Visionary Artist Melvin Way," further describes Way's artwork as "creating synaptic connections between real things in possible and impossible ways, all with great graphic imagination."

And Balwit does the same, creating synaptic connections between the possible and impossible layers of Way's art and the possible and impossible layers of the world around us.

Artwork by Mary Bast
Feasting upon this interstitching of poetry and artwork, I felt drawn to include a response to both in my mixed media piece, "Something Only Melvin Way Can Do," among a series of tributes to artists traditionally ignored in a white-male-dominated art world. (Melvin Way studied briefly at the Technical Career Institute before mental illness left him homeless, in and out of psychiatric care and the city's shelter system.)

*     *     *

Devon Balwit lives in the Pacific Northwest. She has six chapbooks and three collections out in the world. Her poems can be found in The Cincinnati Review, Rattle, Peacock Journal, Fire Poetry Journal, The Wild Word, The Ekphrastic Review, and many others. Her chapbook, Forms Most Marvelous, is available at dancing girl press & studio.

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

From the Editor: Bacopa Literary Review 2018

What always impressed me about Zaki's work was that she was able to keep that just anger hot and alive, but she also knew how to keep it properly focused, to keep it in check and not to let it consume her entire being. "Combat breath" she calls it in one of her essays. Mastering the anger rather than being mastered by it. (Michael Dennehy: "Ntozake Shange: On a Brilliant Balance of Anger and Poetry," Literary Hub, December 1, 2016)
Last year our contributors sought meaning and inspiration in the face of environmental concerns, political dissent, divisiveness, war, discrimination, and suffering. In Bacopa Literary Review's 2018 edition, the work as a whole is even tougher, more demanding, angrier. Metaphorically knocked out by the clout and courage in these poets' and writers' voices, I found heart in the notion of combat breath.

Readers, you too will benefit from combat breathing as you engage with the works in these pages. As a prelude to this issue, I've devised the found poem below of key phrases from its contents. Inhale, exhale, slowly, deeply. Release your fear, inspire a survival mindset.
A culture ignorant of reverence, currency cold, hard,
dark hills, cultivation of scabs, scratchings of desire,
stand before the bar charged with racism, tangles, decays.
So much feels wrong, another chapter of slow death,

waiting to take your heart in its teeth. Reams
of dark matter unravel as nature rises through depths
of lantern shadows, to the thread Atropos will cut
for each of us: oh, this conflux is fucked for sure. 

Earth locks us by hard turns in its round embrace, and
don't we tremble at our stations with bleak temptation
to despair? To raise is to bend, not break, yet how
the heart contrives to tint the glare of a boisterous sun.

Minds go mad to plot the coming revenge. Un-
penitent seekers, almost-reformed skeptics squinting
in the bright light: though all departures taste like loss,
step away from the comfort of narrow familiarity,

leave a trail of shredded paper, cry, curse, forget every-
thing on your way. You cannot look at surface only, must
dig down, smell the perfume of righteous anger, see how
a poet--neither angel nor beast--can make you feel. 

Stare into the eyes of the tiger, push that Sisyphean
boulder up the hill, one foot then the other, scraping
against the pull of gravity and family. Release
the breath you didn't realize you were holding.

Become less fear, more sigh.
Mary Bast
Senor Editor

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

What is it About Shoes?

by Bacopa Literary Review Editor in Chief Mary Bast

I've written before about ekphrasis, the intersection of verbal and visual arts. Not included in that post are Marianne Moore's poem "Nine Nectarines and Other Porcelain" and Elizabeth Bishop's poem "Large Bad Picture" (based on George Wylie Hutchinson's "Seascape," right).

As Bishop's title implies, creating ekphrastic poetry can be enormous fun.

In the same Melanie Almeder workshop that inspired my Bacopa 2012-published "plummet" (imagining Icarus in Brueghel's "Landscape with the Fall of Icarus" as a woman), Almeder also asked us to to make a list of terms describing something ordinary in our lives, and then to write an ode to that item. My most ordinary and also cherished possession, after years of corporate-consulting-required-suits-and-oh-so-uncomfortable-high-heels, were (and are still) my Birkenstocks:

ode to my birkenstocks 
(from "Eeek Love")
sole-mates I am barely
clothed in you
so easy to slide into
walking me
away from suits
you've taken me
to places high-
class shoes would fear
you relish luscious mud
& sand & bits of twigs
that hang on tightly
to your treads
I am besotted birkies
with the child in you
who tastes & smudges
oh you messy shoes
this simple-minded
search for ground
may wear us down
you mortal stumble-bums
Then, just this morning, I read a a friend's post about a Poetry Workshop on Ekphrastic with Pauletta Hansel [Cincinnati Poet Laureate Emeritus (April 2016-March 2018)].

Barbara Sliter's ekphrastic poem "The Red Shoe," much like mine, remembers "a time . . . / before the guy selling lettuce / said "I don't think of you / as an old person. . . a time before / shoes became practical. . . ."

I'm still smiling.

Saturday, July 21, 2018

Yamaraja Das, Back to Godhead

Today we learned that Yamaraja Das (born Robert Wintermute II), who created the layout for Bacopa Literary Review since its inception in 2010, passed away on June 22. A Krishna devotee, Yama (as we knew him) was, indeed, "a quiet hero."

As one of his friends said, "It irked Yamaraja to see badly produced books. Even after many years of working with him, I continued to be impressed by how he always produced attractively designed articles with extremely limited resources."

We join Kesihanta Das, who visited Yama in his final days, in imagining Yamaraja Das "already Back to Godhead."

Saturday, June 23, 2018

Bacopa Literary Review 2018 Prize Winners

Congratulations to our 2018 Bacopa Literary Review prize winners:

Creative Nonfiction Prize: "I said No"
Roberta Marstellar

Roberta Marstellar is a writer and storyteller. Her career path is a circuitous one, defined by detours: Structural engineer—marketing specialist—finance manager—general contractor—food blogger—entrepreneur. Since the age of twelve, writing is the one endeavor Roberta has faithfully pursued. She lives in Chicago with her husband, two beehives, and a lifetime of books.

Short Story Prize: "Nobody Knows How Much You Love Him"
Dean Gessie

Dean Gessie has been a finalist in ten international fiction competitions. His stories have appeared in anthologies in Ireland, England and the United States. He has also published three novellas: Guantanamo Redux is dystopian fiction; A Brief History of Summer Employment is a fictional memoir; and TrumpeterVille is animal allegory.

Prose Poetry Prize: "U-Turn"
Cynthia Roby

Cynthia Roby lives in Bronx, New York, where she works as an adjunct professor of academic writing. Her fiction, poetry, and essays have appeared in publications including The Penman Review ("Boomerang And Sadie," "Faltered Footwear"/"After My Five Cents, I Ran," "Lust"), The Lindenwood Review, Rat's Ass Review, Thrice Fiction, and Black Denim Lit. Cynthia earned her MFA from Lindenwood University.

Poetry Prize: "Outside the Clinic"
Patrick Synan

Patrick Synan is a young poet from New Hampshire. He studied literature at Boston College and teaches in Boston. His first poems appeared in Crosswinds Poetry Journal.

Sunday, May 27, 2018

Art Imitates Life: Every Story has Two Sides

by Bacopa Literary Review Editor in Chief Mary Bast
Charles Baxter pursues his tough-minded ideas -- steeled as they are by paradox and contradiction -- without ever losing sight of the quieter truths revealed in ordinary lives. Kirkus Review
After reading Charles Baxter's First Light, I sat quite stunned at how completely individual and well-wrought were each of his very different characters. Hugh Welch is an ordinary guy who sells cars and thinks about sports. His sister Dorsey is a brilliant astrophysicist. The thoughts and actions of Hugh and Dorsey are so completely drawn, I felt as if I'd been transported inside their brains, each with distinctive cognitive ability.

I was also impressed by the range of Baxter's own mind, to be able to identify so fully with each of his characters. And I was reminded of how differently each of us views the world, quite evident in the contrast between Hugh's and Dorsey's perspectives.

Those reactions to First Light reminded me of my response upon reading Lawrence Durrell's The Alexandria Quartet  (Justine, Balthazar, Mountolive, Clea). Still in my early twenties, this was the first time I learned from brilliant writing how different perspectives color individual interpretations of the world. I'd just finished reading Justine and turned to Balthazar, expecting a continuation of events described by Justine in the first novel. Instead, I was surprised to read about the same events Justine had described, only now from Balthazar's point of view.

Durrell brilliantly illustrated how our limited perspectives create completely different interpretations of the world. Now it's quite common to read novels in which the remarkable differences among characters' points of view underlie apparent reality. In a more contemporary example, Lauren Groff's Fates and Furies, the entire first half is from Lancelot (Lotto) Satterwhite's point of view, the second half from his wife Mathilde Yoder's. 

Every story has two sides. Every relationship has two perspectives.

Saturday, May 26, 2018

How to Die Happy: An Incentive to Excellence

Guest post by Diane E. Hoch: 

Here's an example of two paragraphs that justify Andrew Sean Greer's Less winning the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. While the novel is deemed comedic, one paragraph riffs on Shylock and they both not only deal with aging and loneliness, self-deprecation and all the other attendant emotions, but the language... no other writer compares a human being to a soft-shelled crab; nor does any other writer consider the crab's transparent carapace. Those lines (about Arthur Less, a failed writer) are ones you can die happy after having written:
Once, in his twenties, a poet he had been talking with extinguished her cigarette in a potted plant and said, "You're like a person without skin." A poet had said this. One who made her living flaying herself alive in public had said that he, tall and young and hopeful Arthur Less, was without skin. But it was true. "You need to get an edge," his old rival Carlos constantly told him in the old days, but Less had not known what that meant. To be mean? No, it meant to be protected, armored against the world, but can one 'get' an edge any more than one can 'get' a sense of humor? Or do you fake it, the way a humorless businessman memorizes jokes and is considered 'a riot,' leaving parties before he runs out of material?"
Whatever, it is, Less never learned it. By his forties, all he has managed to grow is a gentle sense of himself, akin to the transparent carapace of a soft-shelled crab. A mediocre review or careless slight can no longer harm him, but heartbreak, real true heartbreak, can pierce his thin hide and bring out the same shade of blood as ever. How can so many things become a bore by middle age -- philosophy, radicalism -- but heartbreak keep its sting?
*     *     * 
(The Pulitzer Prize is an annual award for achievements in newspaper, magazine and online journalism, literature, poetry, music, and photography in the United States, funded since 1917, as an incentive to excellence, from the will of publisher, passionate crusader, and visionary Joseph Pulitzer. List of Pulitzer Prizes for Fiction here.)

 *     *     *
From Bacopa Literary Review Editor in Chief Mary Bast:

As many talented writers have insisted, the best way to become a better writer is to read, read, read. Have you read every novel that's won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction? That might be a good place to start. During National Poetry Month 2013, I participated in "Pulitzer Remix," a project of The Found Poetry Review. Eighty-five poets from seven countries each wrote a poem a day from one of the 85 Pulitzer-Prize-winning works of fiction published to that date, and posted on the Pulitzer Remix website. Toward the River is a collection of my Pulitzer Remix poems from Michael Cunningham's The Hours.

Monday, May 21, 2018

The Light of the Flash: Short Stories and Shorter Stories

by Editor in Chief Mary Bast
The novelist ... does not convey the quality of human life, where contact is more like the flash of fireflies, in and out, now here, now there, in darkness. Short story writers see by the light of the flash; theirs is the art of the only thing we can be sure of - the present moment. Nadine Gordimer (quoted by Karen Lazar in "Writing by the flash of fireflies," 20 Nov 2013, Mail & Guardian)
Last year our short genre was Flash; this year's Short Story genre could also include something very short (at least 250 words), as long as it revolves around a central story core, with tight writing and a powerful voice.

Short Story Editor Kaye Linden has written, "You want the reader to get in and get out, the emotional impact of the words resonating beyond the words." In Chapter 2 of 35 Tips for Writing a Brilliant Flash Story (also included in a former blog post), she describes the House Theory: 
The Novel Analogy: You approach a house in the neighborhood. The family invites you for dinner. The evening offers stories, entertaining characters, conflicts, discussions, and new people. After going upstairs to the bathroom, you sneak a look in the closets and find out how these people live. Are the clothes organized and meticulously hung or are they crammed together in disarray, piles of dirty laundry on the floor?

Short Story Analogy: One evening, you notice the house living-room windows are open and the lights are on. You peer in, able to view only one room, let's say the living room. You hear the conversations and arguments, and witness the character interactions and current events as the characters sit around a coffee table. You recognize a few of the people from dinner the other night and remember one or two of their stories. Your view is limited to the living room.

The Flash Analogy: Tonight, like a voyeur, you peer into the keyhole. The lights are on. Observe the living room happenings through the narrow keyhole frame that limits your view to one tiny fraction of the room.
Here's an example from last year's Flash genre that meets the above criteria and would work just as well for this year's Short Story. Kaye Linden described Chelsea Ruxer's "Purple Light" as "lovely in its pale imagery and nostalgic mood, a small piece that suggests with power."

Purple Light (287 words)
by Chelsea Ruxer
The walls won't stay one color. The light changes them through the day, and the whites we started with in their fresh little squares have turned grey and green, and even brown up in the creases of the crown molding.
     I hold the paint card under the lamp, remember buying it the night we closed on our first house together. We ran our fingers along the bumpy edge of the shade, hundreds of triangles of colored glass I thought could go anywhere.
     I look around the room, hold the little white cards up to the mantle and imagine what this should be. The lamp brings out the blues in my sisters' bridesmaids dresses and Angie's graduation robe, dark greens from Ka'ala, pinks in our smiles there and in Angie's first picture, her skin blotchy against the crisp sheet of the hospital bed.
     The painters will come again in the morning. Maybe we'll change the trim this time, or the ceiling. They won't stay long enough for the light to change.
     I hear his phone ding in the kitchen just before a flash of turquoise illuminates the wall behind it. It's a color that doesn't go. The light brightens for a moment, a notification box on the screen. Then it disappears. It always does, if you just leave it alone.
     The sun through that window is blinding now, but the light will soften. I stay long enough to watch it turn from the slanted golds of late afternoon to sweet reds that get sucked into amber and then those few, funny moments of purple before a shadow falls across the table and the sky sinks into the deeper blues of the night, when the window just shows me.
 *     *    *
(Chelsea Ruxer is an MFA student at the Bluegrass Writers Studio. Her work has been published in 5x5, Adelaide, Flash Fiction Magazine, Jellyfish Review, Hermeneutic Chaos, Jersey Devil Press, Maudlin House, New Pop Lit, The Airgonaut, and others. One of her short pieces was nominated for 2016's Best of the Net)

Saturday, May 12, 2018

Prose Poetry: Powered by More Than One Source

By Editor in Chief Mary Bast
Prose poems are pure creation, the playful and daring edge of poetry. The writer provides powerful language and, above all, a truthful voice. Kaye Linden, 35 Tips for Writing Powerful Prose Poems
Prose poetry is a hybrid and, as with any hybrid, is powered by more than one source. It resembles prose in its lack of line breaks, but still is image-driven and with other poetic attributes such as meter, rhythm, rhyme, imagery, metaphors, sounds, and the powerful lyrical language we associate with poetry. This photo from page 17 of Bacopa Literary Review 2016 shows Tina Barry's "Two Shapes Mirrored," a doubly appropriate title for a prose poem.

Another example of  prose poetry we admire is Leslie Anne Mcilroy's "Big Bang" (Second Place Prize in Bacopa 2016's Poetry genre), described by Kaye Linden as "not only playful in form but edgy and courageous... clever handling of a highly creative and unique theme in which each planet of the solar system is personified" (the word Syzygy, from ancient Greek "yoked together," in the first of 12 stanzas in "Big Bang" refers to the alignment of sun, moon, earth, as in an eclipse):
1. Date with Syzygy
More than once, the sun and the moon doing things they've never, trading light for dark, all eclipse and aerial acrobatics. The stars, blinking with confusion, bumping into clouds in broad daylight, dawn and dusk dancing in drag, roosters crowing at twilight and me, here at the window, waiting for a universe.
A third example is Laura Madeline Wiseman's prose poem, "Under the Frankincense Trees," accepted by Kaye Linden because, "The profusion of imagery will offer a unique and unusual fantasy touch to Bacopa" (follow this link to read Wiseman's work).

We're drawing near to the May 31 deadline for submissions to this year's contest and already have some fabulous prose poetry, with room for a few more.

Don't be limited in your imagination. The above examples provide some idea of the range of work we publish in prose poetry, but as Kaye Linden indicates in 35 Tips for Writing Powerful Prose Poems, prose poems offer "a fantastic trampoline to bounce around creativity."

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Dive Beneath the Surface

by Editor in Chief Mary Bast
The world is satisfied with words. Few care to dive beneath the surface.
Blaise Pascal
First-class writers share an enviable knowledge of human nature through deeply drawn characters that illustrate not only what the world sees, but what lies beneath the surface and leads to a unique point of view.

Reading such work helps us all become better writers.  I've described elsewhere John Fowles' development of Sarah Woodruff in The French Lieutenant's Woman.

Below are steps to dive beneath the surface, as suggested by Larry Brooks in "Three Dimensions of Character Development," using Sarah Woodruff as an example:
  1. First, show your character's surface traits, quirks, and habits. Characters like Sarah Woodruff have a self-image as someone who's basically flawed, with a focus on suffering, emotional sensitivity and empathy, aesthetic sensibility, and a push-pull pattern in relationships (idealizing the lover, until reality sets in). Read the early pages of The French Lieutenant's Woman, for example, where Sarah's sobs are "creeping like blood through a bandage."
  2. Second, provide the back story and your character's inner demons: what prompts, explains, and motivates this character? Those like Sarah Woodruff nurture a "story" about not being sufficiently loved, and focus on what's missing or lacking. ("What has kept me alive is my shame, my knowing that I am truly not like other women.")
  3. Third, how would this personality's true character emerge through choices made when something important is at stake? By the end of The French Lieutenant's Woman, Sarah Woodruff is different from many women and unafraid to be so. An assistant and model for a well-known artist, she's developed equanimity -- she is unmarried and unconcerned about conventional attitudes toward her single state in the Victorian era.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Flash Fiction: Short and Tumultuous

By Editor in Chief Mary Bast
The lofty stance, the cosmic range, and the haunting music of Trakl's poetry now mark him, with Rilke, as perhaps the last great representative of what could be called the sublime tradition in German. Herbert Samuel Lindenberger, Georg Trakl
Our 2017 Flash Story Prize-winner Stephanie Emily Dickinson illuminates the short, tumultuous life of  Georg Trakl (1887-1914) in  Excerpts from the Trakl Diaries: A Collection of Tales (31: "Strangeress," 32: "The Snow," 33:"The Train," and 34: "Military Exercises" below). Her inspiration, George Trakl, protested "against the corrupt, fallen condition of humankind." To fully appreciate Dickinson's skill in creating new work while capturing the haunting music of Trakl's Expressionist poetry, click here for some of Trakl's poems, then read "Military Exercises," one of Dickinson's Collection of Tales available in Bacopa Literary Review 2017:
Military Exercises
1914. Heat has trapped itself. The light stays midmorning while we march through grass that rain has dampened. Linden trees around the parade ground throb with white scent. The grass blades lash themselves to my boots. My comrades chase not a ball but a soldier in pale goggles who kicks at a creature. The sky is the color of a giant spiked wheel breaking bodies as it rolls. The hardwoods hidden, spider webs embrace them. Back and forth we drill, a strophe that believes its steps have returned to the 4th grade where recess has begun. The bigger boys play. Each scrambles to pick up a stone or a stick. The animal that I took for a black cat is a rat, thin and elongated. Brownish black with a tail longer than its head and body, it blinks at the brightness with its poor eyes. My comrades are hoisting the culprit up and applying weights, they are setting the two forks, the prongs plunged into the flesh, against the neck. The tallest takes from his jacket pocket a wire contraption and baits it. I smell the sweetness of bacon. Red tort. Pig kidney flamed in rum. The rat tries to flee, pulling its strange cordy tail, skittering one way and then the other. The rat squeaks piteously and drags its little body. Nein, I say, drawing my service revolver. Nein. I will save the heretic. Give me the contraption, free the wire from the rat's neck. My comrades laugh, they clamor to swing the rat now that its blood is trickling through the air. Soon it will be August. War. The rat no longer claws the earth but kings it. Millions breed with the red slugs and frogs. Corpse rats. Millions of rat Robespierres to avenge, fewer rat Buddhas to forgive here under the lover's linden trees whose white perfume masks the executioner's sweat.

*    *    *
Stephanie Dickinson was raised on an Iowa farm, graduated with an MFA from the University of Oregon, and now lives in New York City. Along with Rob Cook, she publishes and edits the literary journal Skidrow Penthouse, now in its 10th year. She has received multiple distinguished story citations in the Pushcart Anthology, Best American Short Stories, and Best American Mysteries. And we've previously posted about her The Emily Fables and Heat: An Interview with Jean Seberg.

Sunday, April 1, 2018

On Storytelling

"Storytelling, you know, has a real function. The process of storytelling is itself a healing process, partly because you have someone there who is taking the time to tell you a story that has great meaning to them. They're taking the time to do this because your life could use some help, but they don't want to come over and just give advice. They want to give it to you in a form that becomes inseparable from your whole self. That's what stories do. Stories differ from advice in that, once you get them, they become a fabric of your whole soul. That is why they heal you."
Alice Walker, novelist, short story writer, poet, activist

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

How to Motivate Better Writing

Bacopa Literary Review Editor in Chief Mary Bast

How many times have you walked away from a writer's critique group feeling dismayed and demotivated? The kindest among us will be less heavy-handed with a new writer, but even the best writers are not so confident they can handle hearing their "baby" is ugly. No matter how positive our intentions, if people leave a critique feeling deflated, it's not working. And this happens far too often.

Remember your first spelling test? Did the teacher circle all the correct answers in red? No. We've been taught from an early age to focus on what's wrong. The best teachers and parents try to correct behavior in a loving way because they know it's hurtful to a child to be constantly criticized. But the operant word is still correct. When dealing with adults, our drive to address problems, set targets, and work to accomplish them has created a culture of problem-centered improvement, where feedback is focused on what's not working well.

By pointing out what needs to be corrected in others' work, we may unintentionally create the "Golem Effect," borrowed from Jewish folklore about a creature meant to protect Prague that instead destroyed the city. When a group engages the Golem Effect, efforts to improve writing will demolish motivation.

We can invite the "Pygmalion Effect" instead, where positive expectations influence performance positively. This approach was named after an ancient sculptor who fell in love with a female figure he'd created from ivory. When he kissed the statue, she came to life. Our goal in critique groups is to help each other become better writers, and our positive approach to critique is the "kiss" that brings each other's work to life.

This applies to all critiques, anywhere, all the time.

Critique Guidelines

Read the work carefully before writing comments.
  • get to know the author's voice and style
  • develop a general feel before noting specifics
  • approach the work on its own terms, not the way you would write it
Write comments in third person; address the work, not the author.

Call attention to punctuation/spelling only if certain errors predominate. Instead of offering a re-write or copy-edit, trust the author to learn from the comments and decide what to change, or not change.

Let the author know what's strong in the work. Though hearing what you "love" or think is "terrific" may feel good, those general comments don't improve someone's writing. Point out specific strengths, with examples, in several of these areas:
  • theme, form, structure
  • plot, setting, scene, suspense, conflict
  • point of view, character depth
  • diction, dialogue, exposition, narration, tense consistency
  • alliteration, assonance, consonance, cohesion
  • figures of speech, word choices, metaphors, similes, imagery
  • style, voice, rhyme, rhythm, pacing
  • line breaks, stanzas
Then offer A FEW specific and nonjudgmental suggestions to improve the work. Saying what's "wrong" or what needs "correcting" will tend to raise defenses. Instead, focus the author's attention on how the work could be better written. Think in terms of possibilities--ask yourself  "What would be the solution to this perceived problem?" For example:
  • Instead of "You've used this phrase too often," try "I see this phrase several times in this piece; it could have more impact if used only on page 4."
  • Instead of "This is too general," try "More concrete details here would increase the work's somber mood."
  • Instead of "This is a cliche," try "A fresher word would grab attention here, such as (example from author's work).
  • Instead of "This paragraph is confusing," try "This paragraph could show more clearly who is speaking."

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

The Short Story, Fifteen Hundred Words or Fewer

by Short Story Editor Kaye Linden

For this submission period, we are requesting stories of under fifteen hundred words. What am I looking for in the shorter submission? Here are some suggestions that will catch this editor's eye:

1. Make every word count. Examine the writing for excess adverbs and adjectives. For example, consider the following two sentences that say the same thing with different words:
"The bigger dog really likes the little dog.
"The Labrador plays tug-of-war with the chihuahua." 
2. Use active voice construction over a passive voice to employ clean, smooth writing and reading. For example:
"My article was published by Time Magazine."
"Time Magazine published my article."
3. Maintain balance and pacing. Sentence length, comma position and verb constructions will affect the overall rhythm or pacing of a piece of writing. Pay attention to each and how they sound when read aloud.

4. Story structure: stories demonstrate action, consequence and change via conflict. These elements give a story its structural arc. Otherwise, we are writing an anecdote or tale. Something must happen to someone or something. These elements apply to the short story and the very short story, whether plot or character driven, and even when under fifteen hundred words.

5. Keep point of view and tense consistent. Unless stating a truism, if you start the story in present tense, keep it there. If the story is from the narrator's point of view, stay in the narrator's point of view.

6. Dialogue works well in a short story but keep the "tags" to a minimum unless there are more than two people. Simple tags like "he said" or "she said" or "they said" for transgender stories, work better than "She screamed loudly." If the dialogue is short, one tag might be enough. For example:
She held his glance. "I thought you knew."
"I had no idea. When did it happen?"
"Last night. The tree fell on their bedroom."
He looked down at the floor. "I can't believe their bad luck."
7. Demonstrate through action. Instead of "She felt terrible," consider "She paced around the room, touching each of its four corners with trembling fingers."

8.Stories aren't just about entertainment. Writing is an art. Art offers the truth as the artist sees it. Significant truths are shared through short stories and the world is often made better because a writer has shared his or her world view.

9. You can break the rules in experimental work. As short story editor I am fine with someone breaking the above rules; however (yes, there is a caveat), be certain the narrator's voice shines through the narrative. I respond with excitement more to a writer's voice than to any other element.

10. Voice results from language and style choices. Excellence in writing relates in great part to the writer's voice.


What is Voice? by Kaye Linden, Writers Alliance of Gainesville Blog
35 Tips for Writing a Brilliant Flash Story, by Kaye Linden

Monday, February 19, 2018

Blazing Trails: Emotional Subtext

by Editor in Chief Mary Bast
All writers are familiar with the adage "show, don't tell," but showing isn't necessarily based on action. "... a state of being can be presented without emotions and, despite that, cause us to feel quite a bit," says Donald Maass in The Emotional Craft of Fiction.

In Bacopa Literary Review 2017's Fiction Prize winning story Ignis Fatuus, and More, at Eleven, Chad W. Lutz alludes to a deeper emotional subtext, starting with the title itself: Ignis fatuus means something deluding or misleading.

The overt text presents Joan Conte, morning anchor at Fox19 News Now, reporting that Dubai's 2,716.5 ft. tall Burj Khalifa has appeared overnight at Linn Street and Sycamore in Downtown Cincinnati.

This fantastic event provides a framework for the author's subtext  illuminating the boundaries of a white-male-privileged social system. For example, after five years of promises, anchor Conte has finally been given time that morning to present her deeply researched feature on race relations. The station's money-hungry executives now want to displace her feature with ongoing coverage of the Burj Khalifa. Lead member of "The Brass," James McAvel, tells her condescendingly, "It's excellent journalism, just not the story that needs to be told right now," then not-so-subtly threatens the loss of Conte's job if she doesn't agree: "Going through a divorce can be tough, Miss Conte, especially when there are kids involved."

More subtle is the subtext of systemic discrimination against Abby, the twenty-something, gender-neutral, bespectacled intern whose introduction to Joan Conte includes the explanation "My pronouns are They/Them/Their."

With Lutz's story, Bacopa Literary Review has for the first time published work with "they" as a gender-fluid pronoun. We note The Associated Press Stylebook, "arguably the foremost arbiter of grammar and word choice in journalism, has added an entry for 'they' as a singular, gender-neutral pronoun in its latest edition."

According to Steph Shangraw in LGBT Fiction, the challenge of gender-neutral pronouns "creates a serious dilemma for an author of narrative fiction who wants to be inclusive and respectful," because readers jolted out of the flow will have more trouble losing themselves in the story. Yet, it's also the author's job "to blaze trails and set examples... That's the power and responsibility that come with storytelling."

So how does a writer introduce gender-neutral pronouns in a way that doesn't jolt readers out of the flow? The Associated Press Stylebook suggests "If they/them/their use is essential, explain in the text that the person prefers a gender-neutral pronoun." This is what Lutz has done in Abby's introduction to Joan Conte. In spite of that clarity, some readers will be confused by the pronouns that follow:
[Abby] ... waited for a reaction, any reaction; waited and waited and waited and then... thinking that both the woman on stage in front of them and the reasons they'd deluded themselves to coming back for another day of this going-nowhere internship, well, they were both f-----d."  
Not only is it the responsibility of authors to blaze trails, it's our responsibility as educated readers to develop enough flexibility to accommodate gender-fluid writing.

*    *    *
Author Chad W. Lutz also identifies as they/them/their. Currently enrolled at Mills College in Oakland, California, and working toward an MFA in Creative Writing (Fiction), their publications include The Chaos Journal, Peeking Cat Poetry Magazine, Fish Food, Gravel, Jellyfish Whispers, Diverse Voices Quarterly, Jazz Cigarette, and Route 7 Review.

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

To Be Quietly Mad

By Editor in Chief Mary Bast

Paddy Reid
It's the rare person who's immune to a well-told Irish story, and many of us have been trained to expect the quality of voice found in Frank McCourt's Angela's Ashes.

Creative Nonfiction Editor Susie Baxter found this voice immediately in Paddy Reid's work. To know this author, however, is to go far beyond his ability as a writer and storyteller.

A passionate advocate for causes he believes in, a community worker who counsels and teaches literacy and memoir writing in the inner city of Dublin, Reid made it clear from the beginning that if he won a money award for his contribution to Bacopa Literary Review, that award should be distributed locally to people in need.

As the son of a so-called "deserter" who grew up an outcast in Ireland, this author's particular crusade has been to show the effects of Irish communities shunning their men who joined the British army to fight Germany in World War II, while the Irish army stayed neutral. Reid's father and others like him could not find work after the war and struggled to feed their families. Eventually these men were fully pardoned and their unfair, unwarranted treatment deplored, but not until after his father's death.

Reid's story, "Starvation," awarded Honorable Mention in our 2017 collection, begins with a quote that captures the quality of life for Rosie Flanagan, whose husband Kevin has been blacklisted for years by Irish employers and his British Army pension recently cut off:
You can be mad without screaming or ranting or raving. You can be quietly mad. Mad without banging your head off the wall. You can be sitting in a room, listening to the doctor, nodding your head when you're supposed to.
Rosie stood in the dim hallway, waiting her turn to see the doctor. She hated the old Portside Dispensary, with its cold rooms and heavy smells... The black mold growing in the corner...   
     I'm afraid I'll hurt the children.
     She wanted to say it again, but had caught herself in time. If the doctor lost patience with her he could have her committed to the madhouse. It had been done before to women in the docklands who suffered with their nerves. Don't give him any excuse to put you away, Rosie... Three months ago, she had stood before a rubbish chute on the top balcony of Liberty Row. Her, just staring at the tip handle for ages, holding the sleeping baby to her chest with one arm. She jerked open the handle. From here it would fall forty feet into a collection area. Just a few seconds and it would be over. She leaned forward to drop it down the sloping chute. As she did so, the smell of rotten fish hit her like a physical blow.
     No. She pulled back, gripping the child tightly....
This is real, this is riveting, and you won't want to miss the rest of Rosie Flanagan's story in Bacopa Literary Review 2017.
 *     *     *
Paddy Reid lived in the US for more than a decade and published memoir and short stories in literary journals such as Connecticut Review, Sou'wester, and Primavera. He received the Anton Chekhov Award for Short Story from The Crescent Review in 1996, and won First Prize in  Factual Memories in the competition and collection, Original Writing from Ireland's Own.

Saturday, January 27, 2018

Call Me Sisyphus: A Dream of Creative Nonfiction

by Editor in Chief Mary Bast

We've celebrated the unique talent of Charlotte M. Porter before, applauding her imaginative use of language in writing that "sweeps enthusiastically through poetry, creative nonfiction, flash fiction, fiction," with examples from her poetry and fiction.

In this post we bring you Porter's Flash Story Honorable Mention for a creative nonfiction piece that will rearrange your ideas about dreams. Notice Porter's unique voice and poetic near-rhymes in the first paragraphs of "Terminal Trance":
Disguised as moderns, poets Homer and Dante duped me with a junket to the Netherworld, an alumni reunion in Hades. I arrive, revive, await Homer in hip hop, Dante in high tops. What a gas! But no. My escorts are grim, thin as shadows.
One is my handsome brother Michael. The other, a former beau always late, a pretty fellow I'll call JoJo. Both lacking likeness to album photos seem taller in black manteaux, their eyes dull cupped candles of souls departed.
In dark dress, too, mine with hood, I lug two drab duffel bags, which a person my size has to slide on well-traveled floors.
Sorry, camp gear, says Michael, younger brother lost to cancer, too tired to lift--he the college batboy with metal plates in his arm, magnets for true North, our family joke, now rusty under skin so grey.
Through her dream travels, she loses and finds and loses her brother:
Call me Sisyphus, but you try pushing duffels across raft of air-filled mattresses. I falter, and Michael disappears. Has JoJo pulled him between creases of my visual field?
Was JoJo always after Michael, not me?
Through sheer will, I bring my brother back, for an instant in existence. His black coat stands grand against the milling crowd. I blink. He's gone--too big for me to see. Or too fleet like river flux or flame on silk.
                                                   Jojo and his yoyo coins evaporate. He, always beyond my ilk, the darling thief dream released through ivory and horn to steal sweet kisses. If this is closure, must I wake?
In what has become an elegy to her brother, our clever prize winner uses travel gear as a telling metaphor in her final paragraph:
A cur guards Hades, but my trusty dogs fail to keep the dead in place as I tarry on the Styx, ferry my stone-cold brother without toll for those duffels--his luggage, my baggage.
 *      *      *

For more about flash nonfiction:
Our own Kaye Linden, author of 35 Tips for Writing A Brilliant Flash Story, describes what she's looking for in Bacopa Literary Review 2018's Short Story genre, with an example of her own flash memoir in "How Can a Mother?"
Beth Ann Fennelly offers suggestions for crafting excellent flash nonfiction in "Making much of the moment," suggesting the best micro-memoir combines "the extreme abbreviation of poetry, the narrative tension of fiction, and the truth-telling of creative nonfiction. . . ." As examples Fennelly cites Anne Carson's Short Talks, J. Robert Lennon's Pieces for the Left Hand, Sarah Manguso's 300 Arguments, and James Richardson's Vectors

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Life's Unexpected Bits of Sweetness

by Editor in Chief Mary Bast

Anyone who's been a long-time caregiver has experienced the mixed emotions inherent in that role. Having cared for my mother the final sixteen years of her long life, I know the quiet tug between strength and fatigue, compassion and anger, willingness and rebellion. So it was my personal and professional pleasure to support Editor Susie H. Baxter's 2017 Creative Nonfiction Prize award to Raphel Helena Kosek for Caregiver's Journal: How to Survive, or Not.

Kosek wrote so movingly, in fact, we also nominated her piece for a Pushcart Prize.

Described by the author as "one of the most honest and heartfelt pieces I've ever written," Kosek's three-part essay begins, "The Caregiver Addresses Herself at a Distance:"
The night path so often covered between your mother's house and yours falls like reprieve, like freedom, when you are able to leave her--pajamaed and ready for bed--return to your own world. . . Never in all your sixty-one years have you counted the air so sweetly. . . the next step, next breath, next page, word, desire, longing, gratitude--a swell rising like the tide, sand unresisting sweeping you along the sea of night where you are washed from your mother's bitterness. . . .  
Then "Taking Stock:"
. . . my mother slowly heading towards immobility next door in her house where the rituals of dressing and undressing, mollifying and tolerating, are endlessly repeated. . . No happy burden here. Age knocking at my door, I am still the rebellious teenager inside questioning, how did this happen to me? I want to take drugs, sleep too long, head into the woods. I don't do any of that. . . I am a monk in my skin. . . Aware of life's unexpected bits of sweetness, I hoard them like jewels. . . .
And in the final section, "Barking Dog in the Night:"
Stranded on the island of night, I try to navigate to the next minute, next moment. A neighbor's dog is barking but without urgency. . . He has been left out or let outside. . . My husband, more tired than I, has gone to bed. . . Now the dog and I are left to contemplate the vast universe that steams and dreams around us. . . If I try hard enough, I might arrive at some profound thought, but like the dog, feel no urgency to do so. Restless, I send some tentative feelers out--my bark to verify my existence. . . .
You'll find Kosek's eloquent, prize-winning piece in its entirety 

For more about Raphael Helena Kosek:
Q & A with Eastern Iowa Review
Showcased Writer at Silk Road Review
Rough Grace (poems), 2014 Winner, Concrete Wolf Chapbook Competition