Today we learned that Ramaraja Das (born Robert Wintermute II), who produced final print copies of Bacopa Literary Review since its inception in 2010, passed away on June 22. A Krishna devotee, Rama (as we knew him) was, indeed, "a quiet hero."
As one of his friends said, "It irked Ramaraja 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 Yamaraja in his final days, in imagining Ramaraja Das "already Back to Godhead."
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.
Here's an example of two paragraphs that justify Andrew Sean Greer's Lesswinning 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?
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(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.)
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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.
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Send us short stories or creative nonfiction you could die happy having written.
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 introduction to 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.
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.
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."
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.
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 2016shows 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."
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We're looking for prose poetry with a powerful voice.
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.
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."
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.")
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.
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We're looking for fiction and nonfiction with depth of character.
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 Dickinsonilluminates 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:
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.
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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.
"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."
Bacopa Literary Review's 2018 editors have coined the term Diffusionism for writing that merges, blends, or removes the definitions from traditional genres. Next year we'll open this category and invite writers to mix up traditional genres, to write skewed or in shapes, with creativity, imagination, and clarity--meaningful writing with a powerful voice, offering readers a consistent evocation of justified emotion or imagery.
Examples of Diffusionist writing might include a creative nonfiction piece written in one long sentence, creative nonfiction or fiction written in lists, prose narratives with intermittent broken lines, or shaped prose that offers a concrete image or images on the page that support the writing's themes. Other examples might include a poem written backwards, or from right to left, bottom to top, or in a series of boxes.
As always, we'll seek great writing and originality, our main criterion for success the voice of the piece and its impact on readers.
Where did the term Diffusionism come from?
While creating a lecture on diffusion, Kaye--a Registered Nurse--considered the comparisons between physiological diffusion and writing across genres. In the simplest of chemical terms, "diffusion" is the movement of molecules from a higher to a lower concentration, a scattering of particles across borders. While researching further, Kaye came across the term applied to the diffusion of cultural ideas across geographic borders.
Mary added that the word's original meaning was from the Latin diffundere (pouring out), and in general refers to the spreading of something more widely. Of two particularly relevant definitions, one refers to "the action of spreading light evenly from its source to reduce glare and harsh shadows," the other to "intermingling of substances by the natural movement of their particles."
We apply this concept to the intermingling of genres and genders, driven not by low or high concentrations, but by natural movement from creative energies: