Every year, editors of literary journals are invited to nominate six pieces for the prestigious Pushcart Prize. A slim collection’s worth are chosen to appear in that year’s Pushcart Prize, Best of the Small Presses. As the editor of Whiskey Island Magazine, I looked forward to this holding up of what I thought was the finest work submitted to us. Taken together, the nominations have to be an excellent slice of what’s being written exactly now. The lesser known journals are championing emerging writers and our experienced voices are nominated by the powerhouse publications in the literary landscape.
I’m honored that my poem “Later We Read Toby Tyler” is among this year’s nominees. Editors Mark Webb and Molly McCormack included this poem for the inaugural issue of their journal A Narrow Fellow, the name taken from an Emily Dickinson poem about a snake, “A narrow fellow in the grass.” I met Mark Webb at the Summer Institute writing workshop at West Virginia University a few years ago, a hard-working poet who cares so much about his craft. No surprise this journal has hit the ground running, a first-rate publication with several tremendously experienced poets, and I’m grateful to be included.
Here’s an excerpt of the poem, based on a day at the circus with my young son. I thank my family members for their willingness to see our stories in poems, without any certificate for historical veracity. We did read Toby Tyler or Ten Weeks with a Circus (1960) by James Otis Kaler, about a small boy who runs away with the circus and befriends the monkey Mr. Stubbs. Thanks to my mom for putting so many books into my hands when I was a kid.
At the time I wrote this poem, I was reading the work of James Harms, a fine poet whose work I admire, also a Narrow Fellow Pushcart nominee this year.
Later We Read Toby Tyler
And the stakes being pulled from the ground, they whoosh like a screen door settling shut.
Lee jumped up and ran–easy from the front row–
laughed and glanced back over his shoulder. I yelled
over the tinny band, big top full of parents, hundreds
of kids on bleachers that must have crisscrossed the Midwest.
Maybe it smelled like popcorn or hay and he wasn’t listening
anyway, just racing forward on those little blue sneakers,
laughing and looking back, heading toward the gaping opening
elephants and horses burst through.
As the Pushcart Prize nominations go out, it feels like a celebration of writing, itself. It’s a great community to be a part of.