The proliferation of ""little"" magazines and small press books over the past fifteen years is an affair much written about but only dimly known, like black holes or the habitats of angels. When they're not coming and going after an issue or two, they're obscured by tiny circulations, zero-distribution, and non-existent promotion budgets. Now Bill Henderson, having the means and the vision to collect outstanding fiction, essays, and poetry from these little presses, has given solid evidence of their vitality for two years in a row. The 70-or-so selections in this, his second ""prize"" anthology--chosen with advice from hundreds of editors and writers--are lively, unpredictable, eclectic. . . and serious about exploring the various cultural and emotional issues of our time. The book not only gives us a glimpse of new writers from publications even the most watchful have probably never heard of before, but also presents well-known writers--John Irving, Richard Hugo, Octavio Paz, Italo Calvino, Kenneth Koch--in forms they couldn't or wouldn't submit to commercial presses. The fiction ranges from the conventional to the fanciful, ""new novel""istic, and typographically innovative; the poetry, which constitutes half the selections in the book, is representative and skilled; essays vary from a careful academic study of the family by Christopher Lasch (from Salmagundi) to a fierce denunciation of government funding for literature by Felix Stephanile (Black Rooster). Altogether, The Pushcart Prize has managed to avoid small-press parochialism (no footnotes or other ballast), and to provide cultural documentation in a very pleasant form.