Tuesday, December 31, 2019

A Brief History of "The Madonna of Main Street"

By Bacopa Literary Review 2017 Creative Nonfiction contributor Erica Verrillo

I was enormously surprised when Bacopa Literary Review not only published my personal essay, "The Madonna of Main Street," but gave it Honorable Mention. It had, like most of my short pieces, been turned down numerous times by literary magazines. For writers, rejection is a  way of life.

The Madonna is a real person, and my encounter with her, as told in the essay, is completely factual. None of the details of this story vary from what actually happened.

My reasons for giving a pregnant panhandler all my money that day were personal, but they came from a backdrop of having spent a decade working with Mayan refugees in Central America. When I returned home after years abroad, I found that we had our own domestic refugees--the homeless, the impoverished, the disabled, the "mentally ill"--all the discarded human detritus of society.

After writing the story of the beatific Madonna, I launched a nonprofit, AMMES, to help severely ill people from becoming homeless. You can read about the nonprofit here.I also write a blog that provides publishing resources for struggling writers: Publishing ... and Other Forms of Insanity. Writers need all the help they can get.

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Erica Verillo has published Elissa's Quest, Elissa's Odyssey, and World's End (Random House). Her short work has appeared in more than a dozen publications. She holds degrees from Tufts University (BA - History), Syracuse University (MA - Linguistics), and has done doctoral work in Anthropology and Speech Communication (UT Austin).

Read Erica Verrillo's Creative Nonfiction Honorable Mention,
"The Madonna of Main Street" (pp. 51-54), and other works
in Bacopa Literary Review 2019 (Print Edition or Digital Format).

Saturday, December 28, 2019

Haiku: Concision, Juxtaposition, Immediacy

by Bacopa Literary Review 2019 Haiku contributor Robert Witmer

I wrote the three haiku published in the 2019 issue of Bacopa Literary Review while I was teaching a course in modern poetry at a college in southern India. It was the semester break at my university in Japan, and I intended to enjoy my time in Goa, where I lived in a lovely little village just a 15-minute walk to the sea. Long walks along the nearly empty beaches, punctuated with delicious seafood and cold beer, proved to be an ideal situation for writing.

Moreover, I was energized by the possibility of having some haiku published by a mainstream literary journal. The haiku community has mistakenly, in my view, distanced itself from what many of its members consider the poetry establishment. To my mind, haiku is a kind of poetry, differing from other kinds of poetry only in the brevity of its form.

All three of my poems illustrate the primary features of the haiku form: concision, the juxtaposition of concrete particulars, and an immediacy and suggestiveness. Two of the haiku ("bubbles rise" and "friends pass away") are, I suppose, manifestations of the inevitable process of aging. An old mentor of mine said that the hardest part about growing old is losing more and more of those who were dear to you. Yet, I believe, we can hold onto a part of our childhood. Isaac Newton had to suffer a blow on the head to comprehend the inescapable force of gravity: alas, stones sink--yet bubbles rise. Each of our lost loved ones was as unique as any snowflake, and we can hold their singular beauty close to us for as long as we live.
bubbles rise
past a sinking stone
childhood dreams

friends pass away
melting against the window
My "sunlight on snow" poem was rather more mysterious in its provenance: one of those blessings of the muse that suddenly light the imagination. It seems to me that the poem contains the possibility of magic, a sudden awakening into life. Rabbits do not hibernate during winter; rather, they sleep a lot, about the same as humans do. To sleep, to dream, to wake. The sun warms the pure white snow; the black hat of the magician rests on a table behind the stage. When the time is right, the rabbit springs from its dreaming place. Spring has come, and we are delighted.
sunlight on snow
a rabbit sleeps
in the magician's hat
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Robert Witmer is an American, semi-retired college professor who has lived in Japan for the past 40 years. In 2016 he published his first book of haiku, Finding a Way. His haiku can be found in several online journals, including Parody, Gnarled Oak, The Heron's Nest and Autumn Moon Haiku Journal.

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Trailblazer: "Dad, 1948"

by Bacopa Literary Review 2019 Poetry contributor Tara Campbell

I wrote this poem in honor of my father Lawrence E. Campbell, Jr. He started flight training with the 332nd Fighter Group at the Tuskegee Army Airfield in 1944, and was discharged at the end of World War II in 1945. He rejoined in 1947, and in 1948 became the first black man to fly a jet for the U.S. Air Force.

He was a trailblazer throughout his career, becoming the first African American member of the Alaska Air National Guard, and subsequently the first black Air National Guard group commander in the nation.

The thing was, though, he wasn't one to boast--and when I was younger, I didn't have the foresight to ask. Years after his death I began going through some of his papers, and one newspaper article in particular captivated me: "Negro Fighter Pilot Finds Flying Jets To Be Easy but Terrifying Experience."

The article contained quotes from him about his first jet flight that were so vivid and personal, I had to write something about it:

Lawrence Edward "Larry" Campbell, Jr., Papers 1940-1992.
at Smithsonian National Air & Space Museum

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Tara Campbell is a Kimbilio Fellow, fiction editor with Barrelhouse; author of a novel "TreeVolution," hybrid fiction/poetry collection "Circe's Bicycle," and short story collection "Midnight at the Organporium" which garnered a starred Publishers Weekly review. She has an MFA from American University.

Read Tara Campbell's poem "Dad: 1948" (pp. 174-175) and other works
in Bacopa Literary Review 2019 (Print Edition or Digital Format).

Saturday, December 21, 2019

Fluttering Bones of the Fireless Serpent

by Bacopa Literary Review 2019 Creative Nonfiction contributor Blake Kilgore

The school where I teach (Pond Road Middle) is surrounded by creeks and marsh. This makes it a prime stopover for migrating geese each year. I try to get my class outdoors as much as weather and instruction allow and also frequently eat my lunch in the fresh air. During one of these excursions alone I had the particular experience described in my piece "Fluttering Bones of the Fireless Serpent."

It was a sensory marvel, one of those moments that leave you breathless, like seeing the Grand Canyon for the first time, or rising above the clouds climbing your way to a mountain peak summit. I wanted to remember, so I tried my best to cast that memory in writing. The result is this non-fiction prose poem that I hope you'll enjoy.

Truly awed by both victim and hunter, I found it odd that my presence was more alarming than that of the hawks. I was thinking about stragglers and weaklings, and how they would soon die despite following the leadership of the group, which is sad, but part of the cycle of life.

During the writing process, I reflected on the political climate, with its tendency toward extremes, each side seeing itself as victim of the ravenous designs of the other. An independent, I dialogue with friends on both sides of the debate. In these discussions, I am too frequently labelled enemy or traitor, simply because of my effort to retain dialogue with all amidst the storm, and this saddens me. If we continue to communicate, we have a chance. I hope we'll find a way. Thanks for reading!

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Blake Kilgore lives in New Jersey with his wife and four sons, where he's just commenced his twentieth year teaching history to junior high students. You can find some of his stories in Lunch Ticket, Rathalla Review, Midway Journal, and many others. Please visit blakekilgore.com to find more of Blake's prose and poetry.

Read Blake Kilgore's piece (p. 6) and other works
in Bacopa Literary Review 2019 (Print Edition or Digital Format).

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Motion as a Bridge: "Ode to Dance"

by Bacopa Literary Review 2019 Poetry contributor Threa Almontaser

Dance has long been the way in which we shed energy and release emotion, finding delight in the rhythms of our bodies. Arab folk dancing has many different styles, and there's a long history that goes beyond just belly-dancing. It's performed during births or festivals, civil celebrations and weddings.

When writing the poem, "Ode to Dance," I wanted to give a formal address to the movements we make, and all the ways it can be expressed. Whether it's "MJ sliding in front of a spotted mirror," or "in a battered boat that waltzed / with the waves," this call to motion can leap us in many directions. It is an instrument we warm ourselves with, a showcasing of the fragility of a body, the body as a natural verb. The passion and vulnerability of dance can connect us in a way that helps divert the complicated social and political barriers placed to restrict voice. (click on image for clearer view)

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Threa Almontaser is a Yemeni-American writer, translator, and multimedia artist from New York City. She received her MFA from North Carolina State University and is the recipient of fellowships from Tin House, Community of Writers, the Fine Arts Work Center, and the Kerouac House. She is the winner of Alternating Current's Unsilenced Grant for Muslim American Women Writers and Tinderbox Journal's Brett Elizabeth Jenkins Poetry Prize, among other honors. Nominated or included in the Pushcart Prize, Best New Poets, and Best of the Net, her work has previously appeared or is forthcoming from Random House, The Offing, American Literary Review, Adroit, Wildness, Frontier, Oxford Review, and elsewhere. Threa writes on the thin membrane that separates human from what we loosely call animal, and believes writing should not only entertain, but provoke. She teaches English to immigrants and refugees in Raleigh while co-organizing a reading and discussion series in the area which promotes the work of undocumented poets and poets of color, raising consciousness about the structural barriers that they face in the literary community. She is currently at work on several projects, including a debut poetry collection and her first novel. For more, please visit threawrites.com.

Read Threa Almontaser's poem and other works
in Bacopa Literary Review 2019 (Print Edition or Digital Format).

Saturday, December 14, 2019

Lyric Essay and Let's Forget the Traditional Essay

by Bacopa Literary Review Editor Kaye Linden

The lyric essay is one of my favorite hybrid forms. One way to understand the lyric essay is to think prose poetry and flash nonfiction mixed up in essay form. The lyric essay reflects something about its author in a personal way, expressed with the author's unique writing style.

The term "lyrical" refers to music or, specifically, the lyre of ancient times. Musical in its rhythm and sound, the lyric essay relies on the rhythm and song of language. It derives much of its quality from the use of poetic devices such as imagery, implication, allusion, metaphor, alliteration, assonance, memory fragments, memory juxtaposition, the structural use of white space and experimentation in style.

An essay generally implies a logical format, a commentary, an argument, a reportage, or a creative nonfiction critique. Examples include memoir essays with a dive into the author's past, or the reflective essay (Montaigne) with focused attention on a subject, object, or specific idea. Contemporary nonfiction essays move along the lines of traditional nonfiction structure and reportage. For examples, essays by John Krakauer (Essays on Wilderness and Risk).

Contemporary lyric essay authors incorporate non-traditional styles and poetic influence. For example, the lyric essay below by Lisa Allen and those of Joan Didion, Anne Carson, Michael Ondaatje, Sarah Manguso, and John D'Agata.

In our 2019 edition of Bacopa Literary Review, we published Lisa Allen's "My Father Explains My Broken Womb." This piece is a fine example of a lyric essay. The author utilizes white space to allow us to pause in between the emotional intensity. I especially admire her deft handling of language and the lack of traditional grammar and punctuation. The total effect is a unique "Lisa Allen" writing style:
When he says broken, he means not going to church anymore means saying their instead of she means boys not liking girls and the other way around means different, and your kind of different is the worst kind.
Notice the lack of punctuation and non-traditional grammar. The following is an example of Allen's use of imagery, alliteration and creative word choice ("wet whiskey of his voice"):
like a newborn reaching for their mother's smile . . . blew raspberries on your Buddha belly . . . can still hear the susurrus of your curled fists on his stubbled chin.

Now your fists whip the air as you twirl from one mucky leaf to another, hopscotching your way through this wreckage. I close my eyes and offer thanks for my good fortune for your contagious joy for his warm hand on my shoulder. He leans in, the wet whiskey of his voice a swarm of bees I cannot swat away: it's not the child I blame--something in you must've made her this way.
Read the whole piece and enjoy the rhythm of the language, the author's unique style and treatment of her theme. Perhaps, consider examining a photograph of your family and write a short one-page essay about your interaction with one or two of the characters in that photo. Lose the rules and write with abandon. Incorporate poetic device and rhythmic language. Above all, as with any writing, have fun!

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Lisa Allen's work has been published in Bacopa Literary Review, Lily Poetry Review, Midway Journal (which nominated her for a Pushcart Prize in 2019), and several anthologies. She holds two MFAs from the Solstice Low-Residency Program at Pine Manor College--in Creative Nonfiction and in Poetry--and is an editor of the anthology series Maximum Tilt.

Read Lisa Allen's lyric essay and other works
in Bacopa Literary Review 2019 (Print Edition or Digital Format).

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

How to Do it Right: Second-Person Narrative

by Bacopa Literary Review Senior Editor Mary Bast
If ever there was a rule that most editors and publishers agree on, it's this: Don't write a novel with a second-person point of view. In fact, that's exactly the feedback Jay McInerney got when he was drafting his debut novel . . . Second-person narration can bring readers closer to the story. But often, it's actually used to create a greater sense of distance between the true narrator and the story they're telling--as editor Matthew Sharpe suggests is the case with "Bright Lights, Big City." (Second Person Point of View: A Writer's Guide.)
As indicated in the above quote, writing experts tend to argue against using the second-person perspective, in creative nonfiction as well as fiction. Though Jay McInerney's Bright Lights, Big City "took the literary world by storm [it's] often cited as the exception that proves the rule."

Second-person point of view can alienate readers if they aren't able to identify with the author's thoughts and feelings. However, Ed Coonce's Creative Nonfiction Pushcart Prize nominated "The Photograph" demonstrates how to do it right, as Seb Reilly suggests in "The Advantages and Disadvantages of Second-Person Perspective:" submerging readers "into the narrative completely . . . delivering sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch . . . ." Coonce's second-person narrative of his war experience and its aftermath allows the author some distance from traumatic events while engaging readers as if we, too, were there: 
      You remember what his face looked like when he fell onto the ground. The smell of cordite and white phosphorus hung over that ruined landscape, like it always did. You and those around you had been awake for the last twenty-four hours; one cannot sleep during a battle. You must keep one another alive; there are only four of you.
       Hot war had come for you on the small outpost atop a grass-covered mountain . . . You were in their country, it wasn't yours, get out, the lady on the radio said . . .

       A hundred yards down the mountain path, you came face to face with an enemy soldier, bloody and limping, a black rag tied around his head. He raised his weapon.

       You were faster . . .
       You still awaken at three a.m. . . . Sometimes, at the very moment you are taking that fatal shot you wake up screaming . . . .
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Ed Coonce is an Encinitas CA artist, writer, actor, and the Creative Director for Theatre Arts West. An alumnus of San Diego State University where he studied art and anthropology, he hosts a weekly meetup, East Hell Writers.

Read Coonce's Creative Nonfiction, "The Photograph" (pp. 31-32)
and other works in Bacopa Literary Review 2019
(Print Edition or Digital Format),

Saturday, December 7, 2019

Behind the Scenes of "90 Seconds to Shelter"

by Jennifer Lang, Mixed Genre contributor to Bacopa Literary Review 2019

In Israel, during the summer of 2014, air raid sirens rang off and on for 50 days during Operation Protective Edge. Down south, near the border with Gaza, people slept in bomb shelters and sealed rooms. In the center of the country, where we live, we marched on life-as-usual mode, only nothing was usual. The ear-splitting up-down-up-down alert undid me. Long after Israel and Hamas reached a ceasefire and sirens stopped, I couldn't shake the sound.

I thought about how people living in the cities, villages, kibbutzim surrounding Gaza had 15 seconds to run. Our 90-second warning seemed luxurious. I thought about what 90 seconds represents, what else I could do with that time if I didn't have to race for cover.

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Founder of Israel Writers Studio, I obsess over where I live. Israel is complex and intense and the political and the personal inseparable.In 2016, Ascent nominated "Fifty Days of Summer, 2014" for a Pushcart Prize.In 2019, "Uprooted" won first place in The Baltimore Review's themed contest: Up in the Air.In 2017, "The Fabric of Peace" won finalist in Crab Orchard Review's John Guyon Literary Nonfiction Prize.

Read Jennifer Lang's Mixed Genre work, "90 Seconds to Shelter: 
If an air raid siren didn't sound and I didn't have to run for cover then I would" 
in Bacopa Literary Review 2019 (Print Edition or Digital Format), pp. 68-69.

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

2019 Poetry Prize Winner, "When the saints come among us"

by Poetry Editor J.N. Fishhawk

We received more than 500 submissions of 1-3 poems each this year. With room for fewer than 30 poems in the journal, we had to make some tough choices.

In the end, I chose Raphael Kosek's "When the saints come among us" as this year's prize-winner because of its almost-understated combination of straightforward, even folksy language, lovely natural imagery, and surreal, almost mystical perspective. I felt that the closing in particular reached right into my body. Like the slim blade in her simile, it punctured some inner wall of illusion or delusion, lifting me out of my immediate surroundings and into that dreaming, timeless place where the best poetry can sometimes take us. It left me shaking, blinking away tears, shrugging off the kind of chills that can only be summoned by words crafted so finely as to connect one consciousness directly to another via page or screen.

I've re-read the piece any number of times since first opening Ms. Kosek's submission file, and it still hits me the same way. A quiet sense of sadness lingers in images such as the leaves dropping unceremoniously, done / with summer's hoopla, and her description of the beauty of mourning doves going unnoticed until we catch just a glimpse of their feathered breasts glowing pink in morning sun, if we are lucky. The loveliness of these images stands in sharp contrast to the acute sense of the ineffable power and mystery of nature, and its expression in our shared experience of embodiment, that Raphael Kosek gifts us with in the poem's closing lines.

It was a difficult process to whittle all the fine work we received this year down to just one poem for the award. In the end, I went with my gut and, pierced as it was by the incisive power of her deceptively simple phrasing, the choice was clear.

(Click on image for larger view)

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Raphael Kosek, our 2017 Creative Nonfiction Prize Winner, is 2019 Dutchess County NY Poet Laureate. Her chapbook, Rough Grace, won Concrete Wolf Chapbook's 2014 Prize, and Brick Road Poetry Press has published her poetry collection, American Mythology. Her 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.

Read Raphael Kosek's poem and other works
in Bacopa Literary Review 2019 (Print Edition or Digital Format).

Sunday, December 1, 2019

About Shiva

by Bacopa Literary Review 2019 Fiction Contributor, Edward M. Cohen, author of  "Shiva."

I am 83 years old, have been a writer all of my life, but in the last few years have seen a distinct reduction in my creative energy, my discipline and, most of all, my inspiration. All that remains, essentially, is the habit.

Still, I try and, this year, discovered a new approach. With a huge store of unpublished, unfinished, unsatisfactory stories, I decided to go back, look them over, rethink them and see if, with increased maturity, a new viewpoint, less anxiety, I could make them work.

"Shiva" is one of the results of this experiment. The original story was, as it still is, about my mother's funeral. It was about the way the family translated sorrow into rage. Only in the original, there was a central plot which crystallized what I was saying in dramatic fashion. Trouble was it was totally unbelievable and forced.

So, in the reworking--and in the new freedom I was finding to throw things away--I cut this center right out and just left the fringes, the senseless anger, the yelling, the background. I have always been a traditional writer. My stories always have had a strong sense of plot; a beginning, a middle, an end. Here I found a story that seemed scattered, that had no real plot, no definable center. I thought it was the strangest thing I had ever written--yet, I could see at once that it worked. Bacopa accepted it almost immediately.
Excerpt from "Shiva," by Edward M. Cohen, pp. 153-158, Bacopa Literary Review 2019:

My mother's funeral was sparsely attended. She had done so much complaining in her final years that most of her friends had drifted away. She blamed it on my father, who had grown crazier as he got older . . .
      Where were all those old ladies now? Where were their kids? My parents had spent every summer at the beach with the families of my father's pals from the local Tammany Hall Club. Why weren't they here? I was furious with them all.
      I was even furious with those who attended, especially my Aunt Celia who herded guests into cars and barked instructions and whispered cues to my father. . .
     "One thing Dot had was taste." Celia's voice filled the pause. "She knew exactly what went and what clashed and what fabric and how much. If you were decorating, you went to Dot before you went to Bloomingdale's! . . .
     "When he first met Dot," sang Celia, "all we heard was how she was the best stenographer in his office . . ."
     "With her hats and her rings! Dot was the fanciest lady in the world!"
     "Pop, I want you to shut your sister up. My mother is not yet cold in the grave and she is defiling her memory!" . . .
I tried it with another one, "Golden Boys and Girls," with similarly successful results which can be viewed on the web site for Porter House Review.

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Edward M. Cohen, recipient of grants from the N.E.A. and N.Y. State Council on the Arts, has published a novel ($250,000, Putnam), nonfiction books (Prima, Prentice-Hall, Limelight Editions, SUNY Press), more than 35 stories in literary journals, and articles in Cosmopolitan, Child, Parenting, American Woman, and Out.

Read Edward M. Cohen's fiction and other works
in Bacopa Literary Review 2019 (Print Edition or Digital Format).