Every time I come to the end of one of these reading projects that stretches over time – Pushcart, BASS, Dante, whatever – I find myself slowing down, postponing the inevitable. I’m not someone who does well with change; I’m more comfortable with patterns, and shifting from one project to another has always been difficult. So I’ve let this blog sit far too long without officially closing the cover on Pushcart XXXIX. But I find a wrap-up to be useful in itself; it gives me a chance to reflect on what happened, from slightly outside the experience.
One of the best things about Pushcart is that it stretches my comfort zone.
I’m still a little afraid of poetry, and forcing myself to encounter dozens of poems in various styles allows me to figure out an approach to each – an approach that may differ. Poetry, art, isn’t constructed on an assembly line, so each aesthetic experience is unique. I also don’t have much opportunity to encounter contemporary poetry outside of Pushcart. While I might run into a reference about Wordsworth, Sandburg, Keats, in the course of reading anything, it’s less likely my daily travels through words will mention Ocean Vuong or Rachel Zucker.
Through this volume I encountered poetry that used language differently. Susan Stewart gave me a new way of looking at trees, and at words, in “Pine”. I have no idea if I found what Mary Szybist intended me to find in “Too Many Pigeons To Count And One Dove“, but what I found impressed me. And while my first reaction to Rachel Zucker’s “Mindful” was – as I said at the time – “no way,” I soon recognized my own reality there, reminding me how important it is to keep an open mind, to notice but not be constrained by first impressions.
This experience of exceeding my own self-imposed limitations isn’t just part of the poetry I read. I grew impatient with Lincoln Michel’s “If It Were Anyone Else” and was ready to dismiss it as some kind of postmodern fiddle-faddle, but a second look, a willingness to trust the words on the page, generated a second-look experience I wouldn’t have missed for anything. Three times, I thought I knew where “Animals” by Michael Kardos was going, and three times I ended up somewhere else.
Because of the breadth of the volume – stories, poems, non-fiction – as well as the number of pieces, I’m going to forego any attempt at “favorites.” As I look back over the posts I’ve made in the past nine months (yes, this project stretched out longer than I’d expected), I realized I couldn’t really remember one piece I’d enthused about; I wonder what that means. Was it fast food – or did it strike so deep, I’ve repressed it? As usual, the few pieces that didn’t really mean anything to me are more memorable, but a “not-favorites” list seems rather negative. And that they are more memorable may mean I have more growing to do before I’m ready for them.
Though it’s hard to put one thing aside and move on, it’s time. Good night, Pushcart XXXIX, I won’t forget you just because you’re on my bookshelf along with your siblings, and we’ll spend more time together.