Finishing Pushcart XL

At the Mediterranean Café I scribbled a note in my journal “why not a best of the small presses.” I let it drop for a year, coming back to that notion in the summer of 1975 in a seaside cabin on Long Island.… What happened next with my best of the small presses idea was astonishing and continues to amaze me. The Founding Editors said okay, good idea, and off Pushcart sailed on a venture that brings us to this introduction decades later.… Many did not expect it would last more than a year, maybe two.… But the Prize refused to die…

~~ Introduction, Bill Henderson, Editor

Every year, I take a little longer to blog through Pushcart. That’s ok, I’m not in any hurry. I like taking my time with each piece. In fact, I’ve been delaying this final post because I’m not quite ready to admit I’m done – and BASS doesn’t drop until October. But it’s time.

I can see a certain symmetry in the open-and-close stories. We started in New York, with an intercultural intersection gone awry, and ended in Detroit with harmonics from the personal to the national to the global all ringing together. At this moment I believe we are all both fundamentally alone, and inextricably linked; these stories highlighted different angles of this paradox, through the lenses of the cities and lives chosen as their subjects.

I saw some other pairs: two poems used broken cups as metaphors, and two stories involved unsatisfactory meetings of young women with older mentors after a long absence. Two pieces featured bells.

To pick favorites is a bit silly, since I change my mind every so often about what I love in a read, but I’m going to try anyway.

For fiction, Colum McCann’s “Sh’khol” still stood out, as it did when I first read it in BASS 2015. Not only did it affect me emotionally, but it kept me turning pages even on second and third reads.

I was mesmerized by Joanna Scott’s “The Knowledge Gallery”, though I’ll admit I was disappointed to find the symbols carried no authorial intent. I’m still debating whether or not intent is required for meaning.

Asako Serizawa’s “Train to Harbin” impressed me both technically and from a broader human perspective; it’s historically-based fiction with significant sociopolitical implications for the present, as well as a deep and touching character portrait.

For non-fiction, I thoroughly enjoyed James Hannaham’s “Artist’s Statement”. This is the second time that art-gallery prose has been at the top of my list, in spite of my complete ignorance about art. Maybe I should start going to art galleries.

A Ring of Bells”, Catherine Jagoe’s memoir of bell-ringing in England, struck a chord (sorry) with me. Part of it was content-related, but I enjoyed her interweaving of the personal with the informational.

I think I have to give the prize for Essay that Most Made Me Think to Daniel Lusk’s very short “Bomb” which ended with its own bomb of sorts and again made me wonder about the line between fiction and nonfiction.

How can I separate out three poems from the many that were scattered through the volume, poems that varied from a few lines to a few pages, some that required more training than I have to fully appreciate. While acknowledging those, I’ll stick to the ones that were more at my pay grade, starting with Kurt Brown’s “Snapshot” for its use of form to evoke a sense of what is missing.

Form also played a primary role for me with “The Soldier of Mictlán” by Rigoberto González. The rhythm is addictive, yet, like the 2nd movement of Beethoven’s 7th symphony, it takes full advantage of the power of repetition to direct the reader’s experience.

I must give the award for bad timing to Dan Albergotti’s “Holy Night”. It’s not his fault I read his poem at a time of particular turmoil, but I’m pretty sure I’ll remember it because of that.

And so, as hard as it is, it’s time to put the book on the shelf, and turn to other things. It’s all still with me, and as always, I’ll recall something from this anthology in the future and look back to find perhaps a completely different reading. Art is a living thing, after all; we take it in, and it grows within us.

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