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THE PUSHCART PRIZE XXX by Bill Henderson

THE PUSHCART PRIZE XXX

Best of the Small Presses, 2006 Edition

By Bill Henderson

Pub Date: Jan. 15th, 2006
ISBN: 1-888889-42-X
Publisher: Pushcart

The venerable Pushcart Prize turns 30. It’s looking pretty good, though it could probably stand to lose a little weight and get some more fresh air.

It’s a year of anniversaries: Threepenny Review, one of the usual suspects in the anthology’s pages, is 25, as is the Sonora Review, a student-run contender; Ontario Review is 30; City Lights Books is 50; and so on. As always, Henderson and a small army of volunteer editors scour the literary journals and other outlets to turn up a fine assortment of poems, short stories and essays. Some have the factory sameness of MFA-program-generated work, to be sure, with a self-regarding, anxious feel (“Manhattan, Joy thought, was just a moment’s cinder in the eye of eternity.” “Am I making sense? Or am I the family disgrace my father says I am?”). Most of the pieces are satisfyingly strong, though, with something to say and some memorable way to say it. Brian Doyle’s meditation on the heart, and love, is a standout: “You can brick up your heart as stout and tight and hard and cold and impregnable as you possibly can and down it comes in an instant, felled by a woman’s second glance, a child’s apple breath, the shatter of glass in the road, the words I have something to tell you . . .” Tess Gallagher, E.L. Doctorow, Ted Kooser and other mainstays turn in fresh-sounding pieces, while there are delights from comparative newcomers such as Cynthia Shearer, whose Faulknerian novels seem to draw on her service as a guide at William Faulkner’s house-turned-museum (“ ‘Show me where he drowned his wife in the pool,’ said an elderly lady one time. ‘You’re perhaps thinking of William Shatner,’ said the grad student on duty that day’).

A well-focused snapshot of the current state of the art for art’s sake. As always, though, the collection is hernia-inducing; smaller would indeed be beautiful.