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Thursday
Nov202014

The Pushcart Prize

The Pushcart Prize

The Editors

 

The Pushcart Prize, which claims to be “the most honored literary project in America,” each year publishes its choices of the best of poetry, fiction, essays, memoirs or excerpts from novels published by the world’s small presses. The founding editors, which included Joyce Carol Oates, Paul Bowles and Ralph Ellison have been followed by a virtual who’s who of letters on the Pushcart Prize Fellowship’s advisory board. The collection of approximately sixty selections, dubbed, “best of the small presses” is routinely received with worldwide praise. Its publication has been called,  "A distinguished annual literary event" by the New York Times.

For the first time in our five years of publication, Lost Coast Review is submitting nominations for the annual Pushcart Prize. As a small literary magazine we are allowed to submit up to six nominees and we have selected two poems and four short stories from our 2014 issues, which includes the current one. It was a difficult decision for us to choose among the many quality stories and  poems published this year and our selections were not always unanimous among the editors. By selecting only two poems, we surely neglected several others that deserved nomination. Be that as it may, below are our nominees:

 

Poetry:

 

Autumn Song by Anne Britting Oleson. Vol 5, No. 2, Winter 2014.  This remarkable short poem is filled with beautiful images of the changing of seasons and the sadness of approaching winter as it descends upon a mountain farm and forest. 

 

Dangers of Suburbia by Michael Mark. Vol. 5, No. 4, Summer 2014. In a poem filled with irony, we watch a family search for their lost dog, putting up posters, praying for his return, as we observe that the flight from the bustle of the city to the quiet of the suburbs, where coyotes still roam at night preying on family pets, has its own dangers.

 

Short Stories:

 

Billy Penn’s Hat by Brian Patrick Heston. Vol 5, No. 2, Winter 2104. Billy Penn’s Hat captures the daily desperation of a man, Sam Thompson, down on his luck, enslaved to drink. Sam earns a living in costume, doing impersonations of William Penn in the Philadelphia park dedicated to the Quaker founder of the colony of Pennsylvania. Sam’s job is to pass out flyers for the Old City Tavern across the street from the park. Despite his nearly constant inebriation, Sam is good at his job. He knows Penn’s life story, is able to embellish it to attract a crowd, and enjoys reflecting on the historic personage’s life. But his head is also filled with visions of his lost love, Liz, on whom he walked out, leaving her alone with their child, many years before. Sam spies a young woman who reminds him of Liz when she was young, provoking nostalgic reveries and leading him to drink even more, which succeeds in getting him fired from his job. Broke, drunk, and lying on the street, he wakes up to find a crowd of college students putting money in his William Penn hat and urging him to give his impersonation. At first derisive, they succumb to the fascination engendered by his eloquence on his favorite topic and put more money in his hat.

This is a poignant tale, told with humor, insight, and tenderness. The author, Brian Patrick Heston, is able to bring the middle-aged, dissolute Sam Thompson to life as a soulful, intelligent, caring human, hopelessly ensnared by his addiction to alcohol. While we watch Sam drink away what appears to be his last chance at any kind of employment, we fear for his future.  But fate and Sam’s artistic nature intervene to save him, at least temporarily—fate and Billy Penn’s Hat

 

Soft Ice Cream by Bruce Colbert. Vol. 5, No. 3, Spring 2014. Bruce Colbert is the author of the recently published collection of short stories, A Tree on the Rift (Lummox Press, 2014). Lost Coast Review was lucky enough to publish his short story, Soft Ice Cream in our Spring 2014 issue. Told from the point of view of the main character’s friend, a man recently separated and still feeling the pangs of loss associated with demise of his marriage, it is a tale of Scotty, the friend and business partner who handles his own twice-divorced status with the panache of a man successfully outrunning the law. Scotty tells his partner a tale of how, while one day enjoying a soft ice cream cone, he picked up a striking young woman and successfully bedded her that afternoon at his beach home, only to find that she then demanded $500 or else would accuse him of rape. Using his previously combat tested (in Vietnam) wits, Scotty successfully threatens her with arrest by his building’s security guards on charges of extortion. It is a story told with rollicking good humor, delightful irony and enough suspense to entice the reader right to the very end. All of these features made Soft Ice Cream a natural to be one of our Pushcart nominees.

 

The Prettiest Girls in Roseburg by Bruce Douglas Reeves. Vol. 5, No. 4, Summer 2014. Bruce Douglas Reeves introduces Harry White, “the kid everybody forgot,” who is fixated on twin sisters Phyllis and Charlotte Gerber—‘The Prettiest Girls in Roseburg.” Harry is a dramatic portrayal of deepening obsession, compulsion and delusion. Invisible to the “perfect” twins whom he fervently follows and defines, with impenetrable certainty he sees them in all their beauty as no one else can, but he also imagines that when they observe him, they see others whom they would like more. From within the idealization of his “love” for them, Harry at first watches both of the “perfect” girls from afar, and believed that “in his own way he owned them.” Devoid of their realness, and in contrast to their popularity, beauty, and visibility, inwardly he “kidnapped some of their realness for himself… even though he knew he’d never be part of those lives.”

In a town where, “Only beautiful people, talented people, rich people existed,” where “Harry was none of those…” he stalks and seeks to possess Phyllis, the twin whom he loved more than her sister, Charlotte. He exists within the pathetic and unresolvable conflict of his own isolated, polarized, doubling images and actions, places from where he strategizes the fulfillment of his wish to possess and merge with Phyllis, the idealized object of his love. After his mother dies of cancer, an absence which “didn’t make any difference in his life,”and his father kicks him out, in the  passing years of Harry’s silent, isolated pursuit of Phyllis, he works at menial, back room jobs, enduring rejecting bosses, barely able to support himself in his clandestine quest for Phyllis.

Harry wanders through the cycles of Phyllis’ high school and college, her failure in competition for Miss California, her brief sorority life, her dating and sexual experiences, her dropping out of  college and disappearance, from Roseburg “living with some guy in San Francisco.” Then years later, in a darkened theatre, he overhears Charlotte whisper to a friend that Phyllis was a stewardess flying round trips to and from Viet Nam. Harry has become a mere voyeur, spying on Phyllis from his hiding places, from bushes near her doorways, remembering a young man who years before had embraced Phyllis and, in his apparent passion had ejaculated on her dress, an event that Harry later rapaciously imitates on a San Francisco night when, after stalking her, he forces Phyllis into her apartment, bolts the door behind her, strips her and, in his delusions believing that she loves and desires him as he has for years loved her, reassures her that he would not hurt her. Harry commands her not to scream, “ ’cause nobody’ll come,” because, “People never come.” Then he “hurtled downstairs into the fog.” Two weeks later, after he finds that Phyllis’ apartment is empty, he is told by the building manager to “get lost.” Harry ends prowling the high school and all the places where the twins and “the Homecoming Parade had breezed its way into his memory.” Harry is last viewed “waiting, hoping,” believing that, “They would come back, and when they did, he’d be there.” Thus the child of obsession, compulsion and delusion comes full circle, left alone in despair. A beautiful, complex story, worthy of our nomination.

 

Petite Suite Cybernetique by Robert Wexelblatt. Vol. 6, No. 1, Fall 2014 (this issue). The first in this complex of three scenarios  about the internet contains a running series of posthumous blog entries and accompanying reflections, beginning with commentaries by a “self sufficient spinster” grieving over Charles, who had wanted to marry her, an invitation she rejected before he died of an infarction—a  fatal heart attack that “ripped a hole in what I’d thought of as the unbreakable fabric of my life.” She is surprised by the contrast between the deceased Charles’ previously solid, even stolid, down to earth, uninspired presentation on the one hand and, on the other hand, the Charles revealed in these newly uncovered blogs wherein he has supposedly written to her, exploring emotion, relationship and the meaning of living and dying. His blogs and the blogs of others, which accompany her reactions also, become a kind of chat room, a cybernetic litany exposing contrasts between virtual reality and the existential world of authentic, intimate human experience. The ensuing blogs display a seemingly safe internet haven for someone such as she who, wishing to avoid the personal demands of living life fully, is afraid to surrender herself to someone else. She soon discovers that blog entries, which she initially thought were written to her from Charles, in fact are both to and from others. They represent the opposite of the apparent Charles she thought she knew. This newly blogged “Charles” continues his invitation to leave her net of safety, to explore an unknown life of unconstrained emotions. As before Charles’ death, she retreats from the invitation.

         There are three sections in these “chats.” A conspiracy theory of a “Rudolph” and his internet circle in piece #2 is a self-justifying haven away from a lived reality that has an irresistible attraction to Rudolph, which raises a question, not raised in section #1, of the definition of sanity in a world of the esoteric and indefinite, wherein “conspiracies” actually may be quite real in life-as-lived. In piece #3 the internet interlocutors explore the advantages of restricting interaction to an idealized, controlled mode of sharing and being defined by only that which one wants to share—a control generated and sustained by limiting communication to internet posts. In all three pieces the characters opt to withdraw from real person-to-person interactions, each for different reasons, all demonstrating the attraction of the internet as an alternative mode of interface. In his submission, Wexelblatt noted that his story is a “hybrid literary/musical form…a common theme in different movements, like the suites of various French composers, pre-eminently Debussy.” As with the work of Debussy, the story presents an exploitation of dissonance—irregular and fragmented “floating chords” that have no resolution, a shading of innovative harmonies typical of free verse, jazz or the indefinite, esoteric, even mysterious impressions made on the mind by combinations from one color, as with the works by French Symbolists. Thus a loveless woman, despite overtures that might contain potentia a realized élan vitale, continues to take residence in an avoidant cyber distance (a condition corresponding to her drift from grief over the loss of Charles and the loss of self contained in her own unrequited love). Despite the invisible guests who chat voicelessly from the blogosphere, all are finally unconsummated, mere virtual bodies, barely wishes, post human cybernetica, shades of sadness, silent voids cut off from love—wandering, but lost to the meaning of time, memory and the real, mere floating shades.

 

We are excited and honored to have been able to submit these six beautiful examples of writing as our 2014 Pushcart nominees.

 

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