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Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Pushcart Envy

According to the folks over at The American Dissident, I shouldn't be looking to Bill Henderson and his Pushcart Prize for any sort of recognition or acknowledgment that my writing is any good. Getting a poem in Pushcart means only one thing: I've guzzled down the MFA Koolaid!

That's because, according to them, "any independent thinker, as opposed to an MFA-indoctrinated poet, will immediately comprehend that being nominated for the Pushcart Prize is absolutely meaningless." Why? Because "Pushcart editors are English professors who nominate their friends."

Oh, those naughty, naughty English professors! Always up to their shenanigans! Gatekeepers all the way to hell!

However, have you ever considered how vague the term friend is? "He's a friend of mine" could mean: (1) I met him once; (2) we've known each other since birth; (3) he's an editor I never met but who's published my work.

Is an editor a friend because she has s/he published your work? An acquaintance, maybe, but would you call this editor up to babysit your kids if you were in a pinch? Make a date to hit the women's spa on a weekday afternoon? Yeah, I thought so. We call lots of people "friends"--Facebook testifies to this phenomenon most pointedly, but it is certainly nothing new--and in our culture it's rude to ask questions once the term "friend" is thrown out there. No one, for instance, asks "um, how well do you know each other?" It's as rude as someone asking, when a relative dies and you're all broken up, "but were you actually all that close"?

But hey, okay, let's go with it: the nominators are sleeping with the prize-winners. If it's not bad enough that the yearly Pushcart anthology is a thinly disguised hot tub party, there's something even more sinister than friendship brewing in that steamy tub:

"Past winners of the Pushcart read like a who’s who of the Academic/Industrial Literary Complex, including English professors, ex or otherwise, Charles Simic, Robert Pinsky, Joyce Carol Oates, Ray Carver, AndrĂ© Dubus, Margaret Atwood, and Richard Ford. Updike is also a winner, but for some reason never became a professor."

There goes that English professor clarion shrilling out its clear note again. How dare Updike disguise himself as an innocent nonacademic. Shame on him. I mean, everyone who gets into the Pushcart anthology is obligated to become a professor, don't you think??? No hiding out pretending you're not a cog in the wheel of the Academic/ Literary Complex!

Okay, time for the self-disclosure. I've been nominated for the Pushcart Prize seven (7) times, including thrice (a total of 7 poems) for the next issue. Bill Henderson, or one of his assistants most likely, has looked at over a dozen of my poems since 2003, and they have all been tossed aside for the work of . . . Academics! Damn that Simic! He is SO academic. And that Carver! F them both, and their high-brow styles!

Meanwhile, I cannot call myself a professor because I only have a master's degree and am not conducting "academic research." The research I conduct--poetry research--doesn't count. My teaching is instructing, not professing, which is why Bill Henderson won't publish my work, why he keeps on saying "NO! NO! Absolutely not! Get those poems out of here. Martha Silano is not allowed in the hot tub!!!!"

But am I an independent thinker? Do I think winning a Pushcart Prize is meaningless? NO, NO, NO! I am not an academic, and I want that fucking prize like I've never wanted anything since sixth grade when I begged my mom incessantly for two weeks for a pair of purple Converse high top sneakers.

I could wear my mother down, oh you bet I could, but I cannot wear down Bill Henderson. All I can do is check my email 50x a day to see if a message has come in from one of the editors who nominated my work. Yes, folks, that's what this non-academic has been reduced to: an obsessive email checker obsessively thinking this might be the year. Pity my stupidity, my naivety, my petty desires and wishes, my obliviousness to the way things are and the powers that be.

Gatekeepers be damned.


seana said...

Good luck--I'll knock on wood for you.

I've been nominated twice for short stories, and one was this last round, but frankly it all seems so incredibly remote in my case that I just go with the 'it's an honor to be nominated' part, and it truly is. But I'd be thrilled to get one someday, with no ambivalence about it whatsoever.

Kathleen said...

Me, too.

Kells said...

You know what's awesome? I think purple hightop Converse sneakers are the consolation prize if you don't get the Pushcart! How lucky is that?

We're all winners! ;-)

Good luck to you. (And me... also nominated and both a Free and Paid Thinker.)


Justin Evans said...

I have had my run in with The American Dissident. Believe me, when GTS (his initials) comes a knocking,and he will, it is best to just let it go.

Full disclosure: I myself have been nominated (2005), have begun to nominate (I am an editor of a small, on-line concern), and I am not a professor---I teach high school in a small town 120 miles away from a Wal-Mart.

Martha Silano said...

It's all a conspiracy!

Sandy Longhorn said...

I'm late to the party due to academic responsibilities, hee hee, but I just want to say THANK YOU for this.

Kimberlee said...

I love this. I totally think you are deserving of a prize. Maybe we should start a campaign!

I know it isn't nearly as exciting, but I'm using your book in my next annotation that will go into my thesis. ;) I think that should count (in some extremely miniscule way) towards academic criteria. AND you teach and inspire others so that is what really matters.

But that being said, I still hope you win.

Tisa said...

Does having an online affair with a former Ppushcart nominee get you any "points"?

seana said...

Well, one would hope so...