The Best Essays from a Quarter-Century of the Pushcart Prize
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In celebration of the first 25 years of the Pushcart Prize, Brandt, essays editor since 1986, presents 35 glorious works, ranging from literary critiques, including Robert Hass on Wallace Stevens and Seamus Heaney on Polish poet Zbigniew Herbert, to explorations of political or social conscience, such as John Balaban's examination of his role in the Vietnam War and Sara Suleri's ode to her female relatives in Pakistan, "a place where the concept of woman was not really part of an available vocabulary." According to Brandt, what distinguishes the best of the best is the impact on the reader. Power is the distinctive ingredient, as demonstrated by Terrence Des Pres's palpable despair at the superficiality and self-centeredness he sees in poetry being produced in a world that could be leveled, at any moment, by a nuclear war. Unexpected surprises are offered by Irma Wallem's lively description of her sexual seduction as a nursing home resident and by Lars Eighner's eloquent lesson on finding freedom and meaning as a homeless man. Not surprisingly, several of the contributors write about the writing life, including Joyce Carol Oates, Leslie A. Fiedler and Bret Lott (on recognizing that writing a great book is not the most important accomplishment in the world). In two very satisfying pieces, Andre Dubus discusses how not knowing what he is going to say as he wrestles with and teaches Hemingway's story "In Another Country" before he enters the classroom is the beauty of learning, just as, Donald Barthelme would aver, "the not-knowing" is vital to creating art. Wholly readable from beginning to end, this is an artfully written and arranged collection.
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