It’s Pushcart time.
This is this is my fourth read, and because Pushcart contains more than short stories, I’ve handled it differently each time. For my first read, the 2011 volume XXXV, I read only the fiction; but oh, what wonderful fiction it was. My approach to 2012, XXXVI, included a brief mention of some non-fiction, and a single post for all the poetry. In 2013, I blogged each non-fiction piece, as well as each story and, again, a single post for all the poetry, though I recruited some additional help and linked liberally to other bloggers to make up for my admitted weakness in that genre.
This year, I’m expanding the poetry to a post per poem, and I’m enlisting more help in the form of fellow students from my ModPo course. While no single course, no matter how good – and ModPo is very, very good, I’ll be enrolled again next September – is going to teach you “about” poetry, it did give me a much better background and, most importantly, the permission to do the kind of close reading I naturally enjoy anyway. I’ve invited other students (the course discussion boards are still active and thriving, though the class officially ended a while ago – ModPo is the MOOC that never ends) to join me in discussing these poems, in the form of guest posts or possibly just inclusion of their ideas, depending on what develops. It’s a bit scary (poetry has always intimidated me), and I’m not sure what will happen, but one of the benefits of being obscure is the freedom it allows me to try pretty much anything in these pages.
This year’s Introduction is largely a historical review of the Pushcart over the past 40 years; considering the enjoyment I’ve received from these volumes recently, I agree celebration is in order. I love Pushcart.
One of the surprises I got when looking at the Table of Contents was the unfamiliarity of so much of it, stories and authors. In contrast to this year’s BASS, where I’d already read six of the stories, I’ve only read two of the Pushcart fictions and none of the non-fictions (and none of the poetry, but that’s not a surprise at all; I need to do something about that, I need more poetry in my reading life). I’m very happy to see Amy Hempel’s “A Full-Service Shelter” (it’s emotionally devastating, informative, and compelling both linguistically and structurally) and “Philanthropy” by Suzanne Rivecca, which I just read about a month ago in BASS 2013. While Charles Baxter, Lorrie Moore, Deb Olin Unferth, and Robert Coover are among the familiar names (as well as a few poets I recognize – Jill McDonough, Saeed Jones, and Natasha Trethewey), there are some surprising omissions: Steven Millhauser, Junot Diaz, George Saunders, Alice Munro. Perhaps that’s a function of timing. Perhaps it’s a function of focus. In any case, I’m just as happy to read new material – Pushcart rarely disappoints – as to recognize favorites in the mix.
A potential theme has arisen already, and I’ve only read about five of the entries: what is truth, and what is fiction? Can we know the truth of what’s happened, much less report it? Does a faithful recording of events matter, or is the emotional import the point? Can my truth, and your truth, be different, yet both true? Can one person hold dear two conflicting truths? I have no answers, but I think raising questions itself can help us grow.
As usual, my goal is one story, one non-fiction piece, and, now, one poem per week, though that may not always be possible. By July I should be ready to wrap things up. Six months isn’t an extraordinarily long time to take reading a book, is it? I’ve been lazing around for the past three weeks, doing a story a week (plus a collection, plus all the other things, but never mind…) ; but like the man said, “Break’s over.”
Is everyone ready? Got your bookmarks, your pens, your highlighters, your cups of coffee or tea or glasses of wine, your candles, music, silence, incense, shawl, or whatever accoutrements you favor? Good – let’s read: