Wednesday, November 25, 2020

What Makes a Love Poem?

by 2020 Poetry contributor C.L. Nehmer

A poet friend of mine once told me that most of the poems I write are love poems. I don't know if that's true, but her comment did cast many of my poems in a new light. 

"Fireworks" in Bacopa Literary Review 2020 is one such poem.

As it turns out, there are many kinds of love poems, just as there are many kinds of love. Romantic, of course. But more importantly, the built kind of love that happens after many summers, many storms. There's the kind that happens among families--those to whom you're linked--for better or for worse. There is the service that is the love of the aged, and the childlike love that is trust.

It was a beach that brought me to this place. A beach, and a blanket, and Bad Mother Syndrome. That horrible knowledge of not being able to provide the needed thing. From the sand, the world is only beach and sky, so we watched it happen--the one fast moving, slate-gray cloud gliding across an otherwise clear firmament--a minute-long summer storm.

Long enough for the kids to look at me
with that helpless look they used to give me
when I would hold them down for vaccination--that look of
why don't you make it stop, a look as if
I could save them, if I wanted to, and why didn't I--
and what can a mother do.

Our eyes locked through the rain, flight impossible, the safety of the car so many blocks away. I recalled another beach in a less complicated time.

the most wonderful wet
of a July dusk, a slower rain that ran in rivulets
down my teenage face, the fuse of his tongue
setting spark to every synapse in my girl body--
rain and mouth and my unsheltered heart
wanting the moments to go on forever
before Mom would pull up and honk the horn
and we would run towards the beacon of those taillights
into the refuge of her waiting car.

My mother sheltered me in a way I wasn't able to shelter my own kids. And a mother herself is shelter. On our damp blanket we ate sandwiches, dipped our toes in the tide, huddled beneath the fireworks, raw mother love sparking through the synapses of generations.

*   *   *

C.L. Nehmer is the author of The Alchemy of Planes: Amelia Earhart's Life in Verse. Her work has appeared in many journals and anthologies. She was the recipient of the Kay Saunders Memorial Emerging Poet Prize and was a 2019 Best of the Net nominee. She and her husband live with their teenagers and hounds in a Milwaukee suburb. Visit her web site here.

Read C.L. Nehmer's poem "Fireworks"
and other Poetry, Fiction, Creative Nonfiction,
Short-Short, and Humor in
Bacopa Literary Review 2020

Wednesday, November 18, 2020

Finding Meaning in a Time of Mourning

by 2020 Poetry First Prize Winner Caitlin Cacciatore

The writing of "Sacrament" was an exercise in mourning, and a labor of love besides. I felt moved to write an elegy for my late grandfather, who had passed of COVID-related breathing difficulties in the middle of March. There was so much I needed to say. I wanted to wrangle everything I felt onto the page--not only the grief and the aching loss and the niggling sense of regret at not calling one last time, but also the pride I felt at having known such a towering figure of a man, and the small comfort that he'd had nearly a century's worth of time on this planet to love and to live and to fight the good fight. 

I can't say I realized when I was writing that I was no longer speaking to my grandfather alone. I was also addressing a world that was entering a period of mourning that lingers to this day. It didn't occur to me until well after I'd finished my first draft of the poem that I had written something powerful enough to speak to others who had similarly lost loved ones. 

Mourning has a tendency to render us powerless and angry. I couldn't allow it to render me speechless as well. I needed to do what all writers do in times of crisis--I needed to offer the world some great and lasting truth, something that would pay tribute to someone I'd loved dearly and lost unexpectedly, something that would have made my grandfather proud and in doing so, honor his memory in the only way I knew how.

At the time "Sacrament" was written, I was just beginning to feel a strong sense of moral obligation as a poet and writer. It's ultimately up to us to chronicle what I like to call the human cost of history. The mind doesn't deal well with large numbers. One day, the pandemic will end and historians will write down horrific numbers and compare the death toll of COVID-19 with that of other pandemics throughout history. 

In a hundred years, I'll be gone and so will most of everyone I knew or loved, but my words might live on, and maybe someone will read them and understand that COVID-19 was not just a number in a textbook or a date on a ledger. It had a real, visceral, human cost that cannot be measured or quantified. That is the power of words--they live on.

*   *   *

Caitlin Cacciatore is a queer writer and poet who lives on the outskirts of New York City. She believes poetry has the power to create change and brighten lives, and wishes for her work to be an agent of forward motion. Caitlin prefers writing in the hours just after dawn.

Read Caitlin Cacciatore's Poetry First Prize Winning "Sacrament" (page 5)
and other fine works of Poetry, Fiction, Creative Nonfiction, Short-Short, and Humor
in Bacopa Literary Review 2020 (print and digital)

Saturday, November 14, 2020

To Catch One's Breath While Sobbing

 by 2020 Creative Nonfiction contributor Ann Kathryn Kelly

When I wrote "Singultus," my essay in this year's Bacopa Literary Review, I was enrolled in a six-week writing workshop where we were encouraged to include basic research in one of our essays to round out a personal story we wanted to tell. I was about 60,000 words into my memoir-in-progress at the time, and had already written the pub scene.

     I hiccupped and slid into the booth beside Shelly. 
     "I'm late. Sorry."
     I wiggled out of my down coat. It was March, slushy, with a bite in the air. Colleagues Tina and Shelly joined me every Thursday for happy hour.
     "We got chicken nachos, they should be out any minute," Shelly said.
     I hiccupped again and she rubbed my back. "You alright?"
     I'd drawn in a big breath. Holding it, I turned to her and nodded. I pointed to Shelly's pint glass when our server approached. Exhaled. "The same, please." 
     Our server dropped a coaster. "Comin' right up."
     I hiccupped again.
    "You sure beer's the answer?" Tina asked, eyebrow raised . . .

I decided  to build a standalone essay around my hiccupping scene, and ran with the workshop prompt, spending a Saturday morning Googling hiccups. The causes, the home remedies to stop them. I went down a rabbit hole with etymology and discovered the wonderful list of words that various countries use for hiccups. I found it interesting that so many of them are similar--with the exception of the Italian word, singhiozza, which rolls off the tongue with pleasing flair. When I came across the Latin definition of hiccup--to catch one's breath while sobbing--I knew I had my essay ending.

     There were times when deep breaths were hard to pull in, times when sobbing would have been an understandable reaction. I fought it, stoically weighing options. I agonized over what I may be left like, with surgery. I brooded on the deficits that could come, without it. An endless tug of war.
     Mostly, I prayed.
     I put the half dollar back in the drawer, opened a Google window, stared at my computer. Minutes passed. The cursor blinked. My hiccups punctuated the quiet.    
     I typed, 'Brain surgeons in Boston.'

I went into my manuscript and cherry-picked a few scenes from the pub, then wove in alternating sections from my research. Interestingly, I was prescribed Chlorpromazine, an anti-psychotic drug that also treats intractable hiccupping, during my month-long stay in a brain injury rehab facility that followed my twelve-hour open-head surgery and my five-day stay in ICU. 

At the time of this post, November 14, 2020, I am eleven years, one month, and eight days past my surgery. On October 6, 2009, I left my house in southern New Hampshire at 3:00 in the morning. One of my brothers drove me an hour south into Boston to Brigham and Women's Hospital. A team of doctors, led by the Chief of Neurosurgery, spent a day with me in the OR while my brother and mother waited for more than fourteen hours to see me again in ICU. 

I celebrate every October 6 by traveling to a far-flung corner of our globe--with the exception of this unique, socially distant year that I'm spending at home, polishing my manuscript that I hope to start pitching to agents starting with the December #PitMad event on Twitter!

*   *   *

Ann Kathryn Kelly lives in New Hampshire's Seacoast region. She's a contributing editor with Barren Magazine, works in the technology sector, and leads writing workshops for a nonprofit serving people with brain injury. Her essays have appeared in a number of literary journals.

Read Ann Kathryn Kelly's "Singultus," pages 145-150,
and other provocative Fiction, Creative Nonfiction,
Poetry, Short-Short, and Humor
in Bacopa Literary Review 2020

Monday, November 9, 2020

A Love Wilder and More Beautiful Than We Can Imagine

 by 2020 Poetry Second Prize Winner Patrick Cabello Hansel

I wrote the poem “First Snowfall on 18th Avenue” near the end of 2019. That’s less than a year ago, but it seems more like a decade! All that has happened in 2020—military confrontation with Iran, the pandemic, the recession, police killings of African Americans, protests and counter protests—all was on the horizon on that peaceful early winter evening. I had no idea what 2020 would bring, but you can see a hint of it in the middle section:

As the hours pass,
quiet settles over the city like a
calming womb: to drive, to shout,
to summon sirens or a gunshot
would be blasphemy.  

I usually write about more gritty things. My first book The Devouring Land (Main Street Rag Publishing) was a lot about immigration and urban struggles. My book Quitting Tine (Atmosphere Press) is about my father and his difficult, beautiful life. 

I live less than a mile from where George Floyd was killed. Until I retired in June, I worked two blocks from where the worst arson in Minneapolis for more than 50 years occurred. I try to engage that reality—in my life and in my writing—with clarity, courage, and compassion. 

One of the things that helps me do that is trusting that we are held and blessed by a love wilder and more beautiful than we imagine. In this poem, the snow is the metaphor for that love:

the white, starlit dust of our
beginning and of our end eases us up
and towards bed. Sleep is snow’s
sacred balm to the wide world.
Kiss upon kiss will fall upon us
throughout the long hours.
Let us breathe.

If you’d like to hear more about my passion for beauty and justice check out my blog "Spirit Wounds."

*   *   *

Patrick Cabello Hansel has published poems, stories, and essays in more than 60 journals, including Isthmus, Ash & Bones, and Lunch Ticket.

Read Hansel's prize-winning poem "First Snowfall on 18th Avenue"
on pages 23-24 of
Bacopa Literary Review 2020


Sunday, November 1, 2020

To All Dogs, And the People Who Love Them

by 2020 Creative Nonfiction contributor Kurt Caswell

I wrote “Reading Emily Dickinson to a German shepherd during the spring bomb cyclone in west Texas” to honor my German shepherd, Kona, who was then in her last months of life. Kona was with me just over ten years, a rescue from a local shelter here in west Texas. During her life, she traveled with me in my truck camper to nineteen US states, and four Canadian provinces. We climbed a 13,000-foot peak in New Mexico together. 

And she was with me throughout my four-year journey researching and writing my most recent book of nonfiction, Laika’s Window:The Legacy of a Soviet Space Dog (Trinity University Press, 2018), the story of a thirteen-pound stray from the streets of Moscow, Russia who became the first living being to orbit the earth. Kona was with me when I read in the archives at the New Mexico Museum of Space History, when I accompanied researchers scanning the night sky at the McDonald Observatory in Fort Davis, Texas, and when United Launch Alliance (ULA) invited me to witness the launch from Cape Canaveral, Florida of an Atlas V rocket on a resupply mission to the International Space Station.

Thus, I think of my Bacopa Literary Review 2020 piece. “Reading Emily Dickinson to a German shepherd during the spring bomb cyclone in west Texas,” as not only a tribute to Kona, but by association a tribute to Laika, and to all dogs and the people who love them. 

     When the bomb cyclone hit west Texas, I was reading Emily Dickinson aloud to Kona, the German shepherd who shares my house. "It will be summer--eventually," I read to her, whose ears stand so tall, and whose eyes, as she turns her head to one side to hear me, are so dark and alive and awake, even as her body is falling apart . . .
     Poor Kona. What happens to a German shepherd and her hips and back legs: the strength that once propelled her on a coyote-run across the mesquite-covered Llano Estacado has drained away, and she can hardly rise from her own bed now . . . "To die--takes just a little while," I read in Dickinson, but not to be morose, as thrust into this world as she is--Dickinson and the German shepherd--she happily appears in it, and as she is in it, she's in it to ride it out as well as the body will ride it: "I am alive--I guess-- . . . How good--to be alive!" . .

*   *   *

Kurt Caswell teaches writing, literature, and outdoor leadership in the Honors College at Texas Tech University. 

Read his creative nonfiction, “Reading Emily Dickinson to a German shepherd
during the spring bomb cyclone in west Texas,”
pages 2-4,
Bacopa Literary Review 2020