An old warhorse takes another turn of the track, just shy of its 40th.
The good news in this edition of the venerable Pushcart annual anthology is that there are fewer of the usual suspects, the Carver acolytes and David Foster Wallace wannabes. The bad news is that many of the newcomers are not yet skilled. There’s a certain unevenness, then, to what is already a mixed bag. Some of the poetry seems intended not for the page but the open-mike slam (“The rape joke is that you had been drinking wine coolers. Wine coolers! Who drinks wine coolers? People who get raped, according to the rape joke”), while some of the prose seems not quite finished. Much work of whatever genre thrills in the droppage of the f-bomb (“What’s going on here, Pete? What the fuck? / What the fuck yourself.”; “Gonna need financing. Forget the fucking Caddy. Go higher.”). Ah, the thrill of discovering that you can swear in college (“They were someone’s sweethearts shitting on the sidewalk in the sun”); ah, the thrill of peppering a piece with rhetorical questions and passing as wise (“Is there a core or essence, there from the beginning? Or is what’s left more like fragments?”). Still, there are some fine contributions here, among them Shawn Vestal’s takedown of missionary piety (“Really, guys, that book is no more an ancient record than I am the Duke of Scotland”) and, far and away the best piece in the book, Rebecca Solnit’s rousing defense in “Mysteries of Thoreau, Unsolved” of Henry David Thoreau’s laundering habits, which brilliantly threads in notes on the deadening obnoxiousness of social media (“Having grown up with parents who believed deeply in the importance of being right and the merit of facts, I usually have to calm down and back up to realize that there is no such thing as winning an argument in this kind of situation, only escalating”).
Useful as an annual state-of-the-art address, even if the state of the art would seem to be only middling.