Pushcart 2013: Ain’t More Thing to Climb*

Art by Caitlin Faulks (caitii-cat) on deviantart

Art by Caitlin Faulks (caitii-cat) on deviantart

Thank you, honored reader, for sampling our collection….And even more can be found through a subscription to the little mag of your choice or a purchase at your local, independent bookstore.
We depend on you. Without you, the theater goes dark.

~~ Bill Henderson, Editor, Pushcart XXXVII

Once again, I find myself in the position of hyperenthusiasm that some find tiresome – and if I’m truly honest, I’ll admit the fiction on average didn’t quite charm me as much as last year and the year before, though that may just be a function of rising expectations – but still: I love Pushcart.

This is my third year blogging the fiction, my second year considering (if briefly) the poetry, and the first year I’ve read every non-fiction piece, making this the first Pushcart of which I’ve read every single prize-winning word.

I skipped a few of the fiction pieces I’d blogged before, like “Tiger” by Nalini Jones (which I enjoyed enough in One Story to go out and get the collection What You Call Winter) and Wendell Berry’s “Nothing Living Lives Alone” (which I pretty much trashed when I encountered it in PEN/O.Henry 2012; I’ll return to it some day, but it’s too soon. It served its purpose here as the story that downright annoyed me in this anthology; there’s always one, an any prize anthology. I now see it as a sign that the editors are doing their job well).

In looking back over the posts, I found I’d forgotten only one of the stories. I think it’s preferable that I actively hate a story than that it fades from memory, but it says something about this anthology that only one story out of so many pages was unmemorable.

There were plenty of stand-outs. I find it interesting that a couple of them are enigmas, stories I don’t understand but still love: “The Seventy-Fourth Virgin by M. C. Armstrong, for instance, or Laura Kasischke’s “The Barge.”

Jeanne Shoemaker’s “Sonny Criss” didn’t particularly appeal to me but I still admired it. That happens sometimes.

Then there were those stories that flat-out amazed me: “Emissions” by Joshua Cohen, “The Fall of Punicea” by Paul Stapleton (which, during the writing of this post, I simply had to read again to see if it was still wonderful; it was), Seth Fried’s “Animacula” which I love more each time I read it.

Non-fiction was the big surprise. Granted, I had a couple of “so what” reactions, and Kent Russell managed to write the only piece in three years of blogging prize anthologies that I just couldn’t finish with “American Juggalo” but overall this was great reading. “To The Rainforest Room” by Robin Hemley, “Helen Keller Answers the Iron” from Andrew Hudgins (as embarrassed as I am to admit it), and Sue Allison’s “Made to Measure” were particular favorites, though I have to give special mention to Jennifer Lunden of “The Butterfly Effect” for 1) winning me over in spite of myself, and 2) being a PortlandME neighbor.

The poetry was more fun than last year because I got help. It’s always nice to be able to refer to someone who knows what they’re talking about when I don’t, and with poetry, I’m always at a loss. Why is this a poem, instead of a flash? Why is this a great poem, and not adolescent emo? I found most of the poetry highly enjoyable, and, like last year, far more accessible than I would’ve expected, but I still am fumbling when it comes to why the line break is here and what the purpose of the spacing is. Maybe I’ll know more after my poetry class this fall.

I have longstanding disengagement difficulties: all things end, and at the end of something wonderful, I find it difficult to put down. Normally, I combat this by jumping right into something new. But disengaging is more difficult at this point since I have an unaccustomed break in my prize-anthology schedule: PEN/O.Henry, usually released about now, won’t be out until Fall. I have plenty of other things to do, of course, and there’s always lots out there to read; it’s just that the prize anthologies form the backbone of my blogging schedule. I’m substituting the reading for my upcoming Fiction of Relationships class, but still, I’m feeling a bit vague and aimless at the moment.

Maybe it’s nice that I can let Pushcart linger a little before it takes its place on my shelf with its sisters and cousins. And, of course, there’s always XXXVIII to look forward to.

*What, you haven’t seen Vi Hart’s video, “Ain’t More Thing to Climb?” Well gee, watch it now.

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