Although there's no unmistakable standout in this year's Pushcart collection, the whole thing has an air of laudatory alertness. Prose fiction is where the solidest weight settles. Michael Brondoli's flashy but compelling novella set in and around a North Carolina bar (""Showdown"") and a redneck radio-station story by David Madden (""On the Big Wind"") are complementary, pleasing reminders of the continued energy of Southern fiction. Asa Baber (bizarre), Barbara Grossman (pointillist), and Romulus Linney (sly parable) all punch in smartly. And maybe most impressive of all is W. P. Kinsella's heartbreaking story about the blasted hopes of some Indians, a story written in ""bad"" English--""Pretend Dinners."" Non-fiction prose maintains a high level as well: David Plante's head-on, quite affecting ""Jean Rhys: A Remembrance""; a strange anthropological-economic-poetic essay by Lewis Hyde; William Harmon's good-natured, non-panting assessment of Louis Zukofsky. And there's the sheer, refreshing exuberance of an out-and-out broadside on the artist Christo and contemporary art in general (""the will to be charmed has replaced the urge to see"") by David Perkins; it has all the whiz and vinegar that small magazines historically used to trade in. Poetry, as usual, is the least of the Pushcart; Seamus Heaney, Jorrie Graham, and John Taggart rise, however. In sum: the best Pushcart in some time, good throughout and consistently interesting--with the highest quality centered absolutely on the prose.