Why Does Pushcart Hate the Internet?

About a week ago (maybe longer, I’ve been busy) the Fox Chase Review posted on its blog an item about the Pushcart Prize. Specifically about the Pushcart’s editor’s (Bill Henderson) statements regarding online publications.  In his 2012 editorial he described internet publishing as “barfing into the electronic void.”

Actually he may have written more than that, and to be fair, I admit I haven’t read the entire editorial because I haven’t purchased the book. I often do pick up the annual anthology, but now I’m reconsidering it.

In past years Henderson has written similar thoughts concerning internet publishing. In the 2010 edition he wrote “Because you can burp up a poem or short story online, you will not immediately join the ranks of the immortals. Indeed you will be embraced in the Pantheon of Twitter. Or maybe The Kingdom of Kindle will admit you. Fast books, no binding needed. Toss when done. Another electronic absurdity.”

So, if I’m reading this correctly, Henderson sees web publications as either an electronic absurdity or barf in the void.

Without knowing much about Henderson, I’m left thinking that he’s just incredibly under informed or stubborn (in 2010 he described the Pushcart offices as “a computerless shack in the backyard). Oh, the good ol’ days when you could smell the ink on the paper.

The number of quality online poetry publications in 2012 probably equals, and maybe even surpasses the number of paper pubs. I’m guessing he doesn’t know about them. In fact, looking at the list of publications represented in the book, it’s clear he doesn’t read them.

Why? Henderson seems to equate electronic publishing with rush, even rash publishing. Does he confuse people posting poems on their own blogs or Facebook with legitimate poetry outlets such as Cortland Review, Foundling Review, Fox Chase Review or Wild River Review? I think the answer is yes?

The online pubs I know, including the ones I’ve been honored to appear in, apply as much editorial rigor, process and judgment to the work they promote as does any notable paper publication. The difference is in the delivery method, not the creative product.

Are there some lousy online pubs? Pubs that will post anything that rises just above greeting card level? Of course there are, but there are and have been bad paper journals too. Just as the best paper pubs have risen and made names for themselves, so too are the best online pubs.

Will the Pushcart eventually look at a calendar and realize that maybe it’s time to catch up? I don’t know, but I do support the position of the Fox Chase editors and hope other online editors don’t let a slap from an institution like Pushcart slow them down a bit.

In my next post, Why Do Online Pubs Still Act Like Print Pubs?

One thought on “Why Does Pushcart Hate the Internet?

  1. “The online pubs I know, including the ones I’ve been honored to appear in, apply as much editorial rigor, process and judgment to the work they promote as does any notable paper publication. The difference is in the delivery method, not the creative product.”

    Speaking as an editor of an online project (‘the zen space’ here on WordPress) I tend to agree with you, but I do have reservations. I set up ‘the zen space’ with very little qualification to do so apart from having worked on the editorial team of two discontinued printed magazines, and on the editorial team of a two-volume anthology of modern sonnets. Others have set up ventures with even less experience and fewer qualifications than I have. Even where insight equals or surpasses qualification and the result is of high quality, on line publications exist in a sphere where low outlay and free access mean that it is much easier to set up a publishing project. There are many reasons why this is good, why it is a democratising process; but on the other hand we all now float upon a sea of blog soup, we all exist within a virtual world where self-publishing and self-publicising are universal and easy.

    Every morning I spend an hour or so surfing the ‘poetry’ tag here at WordPress, and very seldom do I find work which stands head-and-shoulders above the banal. I’m sorry if that sounds like an elitist statement – maybe it is. Today, for example, there was a heck of a lot of posts labelled ‘haiku’, the overwhelming majority of which only demonstrated that the bloggers concerned knew a) what a syllable is, and b) how to count to seventeen. That is what poetry on the internet is. It is the price we pay for the democratisation that the internet brings.

    Set that against the raison d’etre of the small press. A small press must exist in the commercial sphere, and must do so without the financial airbag that larger publishing corporations have. There may well be online publications who apply as much editorial rigour, process, and judgment, but the small presses are the ones who bet their shirts on it.

    Bill Henderson, in Pushcart’s manifesto, says this:

    “The commercial world informs us that this is an impossible dream. Oligarchs pick our entertainments, our celebrities, our presidents and our wars. We children of the spirit are yesterday’s news, if we ever were news.

    Yet for over three decades the Pushcart Prize – and the small presses and authors we honor – have flourished. The reason? (Simple, stupid). Spirit will never be quelled, certainly not by big bucks and bluster. Each edition of the Pushcart Prize is evidence of this. Many new presses and dozens of new authors emerge annually. And so the Pushcart Prize has been renewed since our first edition in 1976. We celebrate this renewal every year. This is our joy.”

    It’s hard to argue with this. I won’t argue with it. I applaud it.

    Of course I applaud your argument too. It is a strong and persuasive one. I wouldn’t be in on line publishing (in my own small way) if I did not believe in its legitimacy. However, I do not mind admitting that I hope, at some time in the future, to move ‘the zen space’ into print. If nothing more, I hope to present an anthology by the writers who have contributed. There is something special about print on paper. The printing process was probably as important a step forward in the history of technology as the taming of fire and the making of the wheel. The jury is still out as regards ‘information technology’ – I regard much of it as ‘disinformation technology’ and ‘neat stuff’ produced with the sole aim of making money, but that’s really another argument, and I am the first to admit that I make much use of what is there.

    Thank you for a thought-provoking post at breakfast-time.

    Marie Marshall

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