cover image The Pushcart Prize

The Pushcart Prize

. Pushcart Press, $29.5 (658pp) ISBN 978-1-888889-01-7

This predictably generous and diverse collection of poetry, essays and fiction features work from up-and-coming talent as well as from such familiar names as Gordon Lish, Charles Simic, Kenneth Koch and (represented by an early story) Flannery O'Connor. Of particular note are penetrating meditations on race in America. These include Japanese academic Sylvia Watanabe's essay about encountering bigotry both subtle and overt as she moves from job to job, state to state; James Alan McPherson's essay ""Umbilicus,"" about the black author's unsettling encounter with seemingly well-intentioned men after his car breaks down; and sturdy fiction from Junot Diaz and Percival Everett. Other work embraces the outre, as in Julia Slavin's startling ""Dentaphilia,"" in which a man watches teeth slowly sprout all over his girlfriend's body, and Elizabeth Gilbert's assured and astonishing portrait of a bizarrely paranoid man in ""The Famous Torn and Restored Lit Cigarette Trick."" Rewarding, too, are the epiphanic stories such as ""Oxygen,"" in which Ron Carlson narrates a college boy's capitulation to callous selfishness, and Gerald Shapiro's ""The Twelve Plagues,"" in which an urbane, ironic painter comes to wonder if he is too sophisticated for his own good. Of particular note among the poets' contributions are Charles Simic's autobiographical essay about his ""New York Days, 1958-1964""; Charles Baxter's essay, ""Rhyming Action,"" about poetic form in prose narrative; and Richard Jackson's satirical ""No Turn on Red,"" which decries modern poets' self-serving allusions to catastrophe: ""It's enough to make the moon turn its face/ the way these poets take a kind of bubble bath/ in other people's pain."" Pushcart's anthology is a reliable and welcome measure of the vitality of the smaller presses. (Oct.)