Friday, February 12, 2021

J.N. Fishhawk: Poet, Writer, Editor

by Editor-in-Chief Mary Bast

Our Associate Editor/Poetry Editor J.N. Fishhawk has been Poetry Editor since 2017, and will be taking over as Editor-in-Chief with the 2022 issue (I'll stay on as Associate Editor).

J.N. was a friend of our journal long before he joined our editorial staff. In fact, his prose poem "a prayer" helped inaugurate our first annual edition (Bacopa Literary Review 2010):

O bear, O rabbit, O moon, O woods with yr million million twiggy fingers clutching after disappearing fur, nestling features, lifting scales and claws and soft suction toes, scuttling buggy digits of horn and chitin, little dust-kissed hooks of moths, O things in thickets crawling, O clatter of lizards under leafmold, O slip of spider silk like cat's cradle played with death on the shivering green breeze-reaches, O underscrub where all breaths die, blaze of sun among dry wrecked shells in sand, you ancient snailshacks going slowly apart over centuries for lime, liner for the guts of the native earth, O hell all you racket of growth and vigorous destruction, come on, come on, burn and turn, let's all go down together and come up again some other time, who knows what beings we'll be? 
For longer than our twelve-year acquaintance, our upcoming Editor-in-Chief has been a moving force of the Civic Media Center and Library (CMC) in Gainesville, Fl, a nonprofit, independent, grassroots, street-level alternative library and progressive community organizing space. He's often the MC for CMC's Thursday night open mic where many of our local poets and writers have given voice to their work. He's also a freelance writer and editor, with emphasis on education, outreach and promotions, academic, and artistic projects.

From one of his latest creative works: "The Darklands may be caught in infrared glimpses framed by ancient shade trees. They glimmer just below the surface of sunset rivers older than time..." So reads in part the back cover of Dancing Ghost's 2016 Production, Postcards from the Darklands, Photos by Jorge Ibáñez, Poems by Jimmy Fishhawk.*

Jimmy's ekphrastic poems in Postcards from the Darklands are beautifully evocative of Jorge's photos, as evidenced in #20:
in wall so worn
by forgotten centuries' winds
that the puddled glass
between the windows' lead
is the ancestor of the ancestor
of the bubbled plate
that was the first pane
placed there,
where the shades still recall
the wartime blackout
even in the claybake
ovenheat of noon,
a ghost of her face
may be seen
to keep watch
on the darkest night
electric light fails
under the ice-weight
of winter
and even the stars howl
with grief
where the spines
of their own illumination
stab them
__________________________________________________________
*Jimmy Fishhawk, poet, writer, and agitator, has called the swamplands of Florida home for many years. His work has appeared in a variety of print and online journals; he's also the author of two poetry chapbooks: Virus, Pt. 1:1 Infest Yer Consciousness (Dreaming God Productions) and Gone (Ghost Dog Press).

Sunday, February 7, 2021

Fees: An Obstacle to Best, Most Diverse Writing

by Bacopa Literary Review Editor-in-Chief Mary Bast
A $3 fee might not sound like much, but the average short story might receive around 20 rejections before it's published . . . Reading fees also pose an extra obstacle in the literary community's efforts to be more diverse . . . Fees ensure that people who have disposable income will submit the most . . . ("Should Literary Journals Charge Writers Just to Read Their Work?" Joy Lanzendorfer, The Atlantic, Oct. 25, 2015)
Every year our editorial board reviews the finances of publishing a print journal, and considers the obvious arithmetic of submission fees to offset the cost of prizes, layout, printing (we editors are volunteers). There's more to consider than the obvious, though, when our goal is to publish top quality work from a diverse group of writers and poets.

Any journal of our size is in competition with thousands of other print and online literary magazines for the best work. So it's helped me to draw from my former business--built on writing and internet presence--to think of Bacopa Literary Review as a small, nonprofit business with a vision, goals, and action plans. As with any organization that wants to succeed in its field, our core values and their priorities must be clear: Economy? Service? Excellence?

Of course excellent writing is key, and going into my sixth year as Editor-in-Chief, our team has become more and more clear that "excellence" includes a diversity consistent with worldwide diversity of fine writers--diversity of age (and thus cohort groups--whose styles, issues, and concerns differ decade by decade), of gender identification (not just males and females--an increasingly useless dichotomy), of geographic location, of literary background (from well-published septuagenarians to recently hatched MFAs of all ages, to beginning writers who've never published before).

A close second to excellence in our vision is service, interacting with and congratulating writers and poets by email, in this blog, Facebook, and Twitter; making sure they see within days that their submissions are being reviewed, responding quickly when we know a submission is not quite a fit for a given year's issue, and accepting especially good pieces right away so we don't lose them to another journal. When contributors notify us that they've later published books, we feature them here. Starting with the 2019 issue, we've also invited contributors to send posts about their work in Bacopa, to promote our writers and poets as much as we can.

Economy runs third as a core value for Bacopa--important, but not as important as excellence and service. We've experimented with fees, and though the current team has never charged more than $3 per submission, it is clear that we receive the finest and most diverse writing when we don't charge a fee. We do stay within the budget of a general annual cost estimate, and we're fortunate that our sponsor, Writers Alliance of Gainesville, is willing to foot the average $3000/year (not including the many hours donated by our editorial team in what is mostly a labor of love). If we charged fees we'd have fewer submissions, and thus less work, but we'd also lose some of the best writers and have a much less diverse publication.

Tuesday, February 2, 2021

I Don't Want It, But It's Not Junk!

 by Bacopa Literary Review Editor-in-Chief Mary Bast

Writers often succumb to this fatal flaw of fiction writing, explaining and telling and summarizing instead of showing action as it's happening. "How Fiction Writers Can Show Emotions in Their Characters in Effective Ways," C.L. Lakin, Live, Write, Thrive.

Our 2020 Fiction Second Prize winner, "Junk," by Siamak Vossoughi, starts out quietly:

About once a week we'd get a call from somebody asking us to haul their junk, and they'd call their junk what anybody with the sense God gave them would call it, which was junk. So I was unprepared when I got a call for some hauling out in Duven and the guy said he had a truckload of stuff but he didn't want to call it junk.
     "It's my parents' stuff," he said. "I don't want it, but it's not junk."
     "Okay, You want us to haul it away?"
     "Yes. But it's not junk . . ."

Then, readers are invited into the ensuing conversation between the speaker, Mike, and his partner in their junk hauling business, Louis, who agrees with the customer that when your parents have died, the things they've left behind are not "junk." What slowly grabs us is how this story shows the action as it's happening, in the conversation between two junk haulers as they consider, first, the customer's potential reaction to their T-shirts with the slogan "Tree Service and Hauling Junk."

     "I'm going to go load the truck," I said.
     I went out back and loaded the truck for the afternoon. We had a tree job over on Greenwood. I thought about all the time I spent designing the shirt. I hadn't half-assed it. It was a good shirt and I liked putting it on in the morning.
     I went back inside.
     "What are  you going to do about the truck?"
     "What about it?"
     "It says We Haul Junk on the side. Because, as I mentioned, that's what we do."
     Louis stared at the side of the truck.
     "He said his mother and father
both died?" . . .

Mike and Louis engage in an almost comic routine as they consider covering the word JUNK on the side of their truck with the word STUFF, Mike kicking all the way with such comments as, "Nobody's going to do this for us when our parents go." 

     . . . I wondered if there was a way I could've told Louis about the job when the guy had first called without mentioning that he didn't want us to call his parents' stuff junk. Who expects a guy to run with it like that?

 Eventually, though, Mike comes around.

     ". . . You win. We have to change the receipts."
     "What?"
     "The receipts say junk on them. If you're going to give him a receipt, you might as well cross out the word junk and write something else there too. . ."
What makes this story a prize winner? Author Vossoughi invites us to observe Mike and Louis grappling with a customer's likely grief and reaction to signs that his parents' belongings might be considered junk, engaging thoughts about their own parents' eventual deaths, without once talking about their feelings. And yet, masterfully, the author brings readers almost to tears with ordinary dialogue between two ordinary guys, in their own way showing compassion for a customer's feelings.

*   *   *

Siamak Vossoughi, a writer living in Seattle, has had stories published in various journals, and his 2015 collection, Better Than War, was shortlisted for the William Saroyan International Prize for Writing and received a 2014 Flannery O'Connor Award for Short Fiction. His recent collection, A Sense of the Whole, received the 2019 Orison Fiction Prize, judged by Victor LaValle. From Jane Hu's New York Times review of A Sense of the Whole: "What emerges is the sense that anyone you meet has a story." Click here for Vossoughi's website and follow him on Twitter @siamakvossoughi.

  Read Siamak Vossoughi's prize-winning "Junk" on pages 10-14,
as well as other engaging works of Fiction,
Creative Nonfiction,
Poetry,
Humor, and Short-Short Fiction in Bacopa Literary Review 2020