To Pushcart or Not to Pushcart: A Jolly Brolly Editorial
In the previous issue of Umbrella, I sent out a special call for mail on the topic of awards such as the Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net, admitting that, as an editor, I am “perplexed by Pushcarts, bollixed by Best of the Net.” Eric D. Lehman was the only taker, writing a longish letter that basically boils down thus:
As a contributor of reviews to Umbrella, I think I can speak to you on this topic with a little bit of neutrality . . . When submitting to journals, online and otherwise, I usually pay attention to longevity, appearance, and general quality of the writing. If the journal submits to Pushcart or Best of the Net, that is a bonus.
I had hoped for a multiplicity of views . . . and still do, if any reader of this editorial would like to offer them. (If you are worried about taking a risky stance, I would be willing to publish such a letter signed “Name Withheld.”) In the meantime, here are some views of my own.
First off: Best of the Net, an annual award honoring just twenty poems from those submitted by editors who may nominate six poems via a Byzantine and headache-inducing process. The top twenty poems are featured on BOTN’s website (a plain vanilla site if ever there was one). Even a cursory reading of the poems chosen for BOTN 2007 confirms the compilers’ preference for free verse. Rhyme, cadence and received forms are conspicuous by their absence. A poem published in Umbrella (Paul Hostovsky’s free-verse “Pocket Comb”) was a finalist. Finalist poems are not given the courtesy even of a link, so they can’t be read on site; were that possible, one could compare the caliber of these “second fiddle” poems to the ones accorded first violin.
Umbrella is an eclectic publication, featuring quality metrical and nonmetrical poems alike. As an editor, I am faced with the dilemma of deciding whether to support an award that is obviously not eclectic. One also notes the prominent appearance of a couple of journals in the two Best of the Nets that have been published so far: Boxcar Poetry Review (three poems chosen for 2007, two for 2006) and No Tell Motel (one poem for 2007, two for 2006). Draw your own conclusions about that.
The Pushcart presents a much different scenario. I am old enough to remember when the Pushcarts were launched as a corrective to bottom-line publishing. Finally, the new, the neglected and the so-called unmarketable could find recognition and a readership! The series’ astonishing success may be its only downside; especially with the proliferation of online journals, nominations for the Pushcart have increased exponentially. Has not the glut of nominations had a cheapening effect on their value? I haven’t counted the number of Umbrella contributors who list a Pushcart nomination in their bios but it pops up so often, it gets tedious. For this reason, I am no longer including Pushcart nominations in the bios. (But let me at least send up a flare for someone who received her eleventh nomination this year: Ellaraine Lockie!)
Your editor put together a set of nominations for the Pushcart last year and then decided not to go forward. She became plagued by a mental vision of the poems buried in a slush pile of bottomless depths and was paralyzed by pity and angst. A small but telling sentence in the Pushcart’s submission guidelines gave her pause as well: “We also accept nominations from our staff of distinguished Contributing Editors.” Naturally these would be the nominations that get the most attention, not the ones from editors of spunky little print rags or another of those “metastasizing” online journals. Even to hope for a win seems vain.
One could argue that the nominees well know this and it’s the nomination that counts . . . but then one returns to the matter of the tremendous nomination glut and concludes that a nomination means little. Nevertheless, I believe that Umbrella’s poetry deserves an honored place in a Pushcart anthology and this year, perhaps, I will take the plunge. Selecting the nominees will be vexing, though. I love every poem published in Umbrella and detest playing favorites. Awards represent the vanity side of our vocation; often I wish they’d go away.
Call for Submissions
For Fall 2008 (online September 1), there will be no special theme and poems and prose on general topics are welcome. Please read the Guidelines Page before submitting. Deadline: August 10th.
This Issue’s Art, Etc.
Orsorum’s cover image is by Jeff Crouch, an internet artist from Grand Prairie, Texas. To view other works, Jeff suggests googling his name and indeed, by that means you will find many other dazzling manipulations but you may hazard on a dead Australian football player too.