Pushcart 2014: The End

When I started this volume back in January, I guessed I’d finish by July by doing one piece from each genre (fiction, non-fiction, poetry) a week. I didn’t realize at the time that, first, there isn’t an even distribution between genres (a year and a half of math MOOC after math MOOC, and I still can’t count), and, second, I’d need to put the project on hiatus for six weeks while I MOOC’d myself silly (which, by the way, I’m doing again though to a lesser extent; I just can’t help myself).

Nevertheless, here it is the first week of July, and approximately 13 fictions, 17 CNFs, and 36 poems later, we’re done.

I was originally drawn to Pushcart by the fiction, but I was more impressed by the other genres this time, perhaps because it’s more unfamiliar territory; I learned what was possible. The non-fiction, for example. A comment on an art installation can be art, a personal essays on house painting or a car accident or sudden illness or other tragedy can swing wide and deep into the collective human experience, and the aftereffects of publishing a memoir or story collection or an op-ed can generate a new stream of thought for the writer which generates yet another new stream of thought for the reader, who in writing about it and generates a new…

It was with the poetry I grew the most.

As I’ve said, I’ve always been afraid of poetry; I don’t understand it, meaning I can’t get the right answer on a test or see what some poetry handbook says I should see. Then I took a MOOC that presented an interpretation, but also honored and celebrated other possibilities, that gave “open” the final say. Did I “get” every poem? Not even close. Did I discover more about what poetry can do, and how? Absolutely. I even bought a book of poems for the first time in decades (two books, actually, but Tin House’s Whitman, Illuminated was unrelated to Pushcart).

One of the unexpected delights of blogging short stories – blogging anything, really – has been finding the right art to go with each piece. An interesting exercise: what image do I see with this piece? I know nothing about art, so my choices may seem either simplistic or obscure. With a couple of poems, my search led to new background information that enriched the reading experience. I spend what might seem to be an inordinate amount of time on art; the benefit to me is worth the effort, though I doubt a reader would think so.

So what were my favorite selections from 2014?

I was less than amazed by the fiction this time around; I’m not sure if that’s about the material, or about me, and if the latter, if it’s good or bad; maybe I’ve just encountered enough really good short fiction that a good story doesn’t surprise me the way it used to. I did have three favorites, all pieces with an odd narrative style:

Robert Coover, “The Reader
Ayşe Papatya Bucak, “Iconography
Taymiya Zaman, “Thirst

In non-fiction, I’m hard-pressed to choose, because this is the category that stood out this year. Some pieces made me think; some made me laugh; some made me cry. If I had to pick a top three:

Andrew Zolot, “The Piece Need Not Be Built
Eric Fair, “Consequence
Tess Taylor, “The Waste Land App
Bill Cotter, “The Gentleman’s Library, a Nowaday Redux
Pam Houston, “Corn Maze

But wait, you say, isn’t that five? It is; deal with it. I would’ve liked to have included a couple others, in fact. I notice now that all of these deal with writing in some way. I’m not sure if I have a special affinity for reading about writing, or if writers have a special affinity for writing about writing.

I feel a little silly choosing favorite poems, since my grasp of poetry is still quite feeble, but I did cherish a few above and beyond:

Ocean Vuong, “Self-Portrait With Exit Wounds
Mary Ruefle, “ During a Break from Feeling
Eduardo C. Corral, “In Colorado My Father Scoured and Stacked Dishes
Susan B. A. Sommers-Willett, “Tallahatchie

On a more somber note: I was blindsided – twice – by the grim discovery, after I’d read the works, that two of the authors included here were deceased, both tragically early in their lives. Both works involved deaths, as do many poems and stories.

A little bird (named Zin) told me the Zoetrope “BASS office” was turning to Pushcart, so I joined again, just to talk about these stories all over again. I’ll be interested to see if my read of any of the stories changes; it hasn’t been that long, but who knows. In any event, it’ll be fun to revisit them.


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