An old literary warhorse plods along, with no sign of going lame—but without much energy, either.
Readers who have followed Pushcart from day one—or year 36, for that matter—will know the formula: From a mountain of submissions curated by a small army of guest editors, Henderson mounds up a smaller mountain of “important works” by way of a sampling of the annual zeitgeist. As ever, the anthology numbers about 600 pages; as ever, it’s fronted by a nicely ill-tempered complaint about the decline of publishing (a decline four decades running, that) and the end of the literary world as we know it; as ever, its organization shows no apparent reason, its poetry seldom a rhyme. And, as ever, there’s a mix of contributors: Some are well into their careers, some at the end, others at the very beginning. Most are allied to the academy and its mutual and reciprocal logrolling rituals. There are plenty of good things here, including stories by Wendell Berry and Joyce Carol Oates, stalwarts ever, and a deliciously enigmatic poem by Jane Hirshfeld. But there are no real surprises. The tropes and props are remarkably constant from year to year: alcoholism, failed love, old movies, dreams. (Always dreams.) And there’s no shortage of carefully crafted phrases, sanded to a fine gloss but never quite memorable (“Call me a Trendmonger, but I’ve sprung for a tree house”; “When midwestern bugs hit your windshield, they chink like marbles”). A trend in this year’s batch: As with the larger society, guns and their associated violence seem to be ever more evident (“At her hip she carries handcuffs, a telescoping baton, a .40 caliber Glock”) in these pages.
Essential for writers real and potential studying the market and otherwise reading the tea leaves. For others, not so much.