November 28, 2012

The wompus is proud to announce six nominees for the best-of-the-small-presses Pushcart Prize. As they say in the trade, it was a very tough choice.

We nominate Terry Wright’s Fractal Cut-Ups for its fusion of take-no-prisoners cultural observation, inventive language, and startling structure. My Mother and the Ceiling Dancers is nominated for its brave and tender evocation of a mother lost to suicide, who nevertheless represents to her son, poet Zack Rogow, the embodiment of love for life. The Parable of the Room Spinning is Eric Anderson at his best, scalpel-sharp poems that navigate the everyday world with an open door and a wicked sense of humor. Randall Horton’s Roxbury is a quick bit of literary shrapnel, a down-to-the-bone memoir excerpt that celebrates writing and the power of a father’s love even as it opens the wounds of a life that’s run dangerously far off track. The Secret Life of Mannequins reveals not only the secret world right before our eyes, but author Nin Andrews’ wit in a series of ridiculous, painfully real poetic vignettes. As for the wholly unexpected charms of DeWitt Brinson and Christopher Shipman’s Super Poems, we just love the way they elevate to existential poetics the culturally iconic cosmology of Super Mario.

So that’s our list for 2012. I pulled the trigger on these six in the middle of the night after pondering for weeks. There are more books we could easily have included but it’s against the rules…

Couple days ago I rejected a memoir manuscript which I liked for its courage, surprising moments, scattered passages of beautiful music. Another publisher may grab it up. I passed because for me, it is not quite a book, still a collection of overlapped essays (which is how it began). It doesn’t cohere sufficiently. There is too much redundancy. The through-line is tangled and the way it turns back on itself frustrated me rather than offering deeper or broader illumination. There are not enough seminars, workshops and the like, to teach the steps from good writing in bits, to putting together a solid collection or a longer book. A lot of it is persistence beyond all reason, being willing to reinvent the thing over and over and beyond any revising you ever signed up for.

You need to have tough skin, that’s one thing we tell artists. You’re going to get rejected often. Your work will be assailed, sometimes unfairly. At the same time, we all know that one of the necessary qualities to any artistic practitioner is sensitivity. You must be a permeable membrane for the world, let it invade your skin, soak in, take root and open within you.

If those competing demands seem to pose a contradiction, it’s because they do.

As for pushcarts, one of my great-grandfathers sold rags. It wasn’t actually a pushcart but horse-drawn, or so the story goes, part of a nearly gone tradition of goods for sale brought around to people’s homes. The Freihoffer’s truck with its cookies and breads, milk in glass bottles delivered into an aluminum box on the front porch. The daily newspapers. Even encyclopedias and vacuum cleaners were sold house by house, face to face. It wasn’t a great job but it must have beaten the heck out of sitting in a cubicle having one invisible would-be customer after another hang up on you, or yell at you and then hang up. That’s on my list of jobs I never want to have.


with love,



Pushcarts, rejection, inescapable contradictions