Now in its late teenage, Pushcart's pulse seems to need a jolt. Maybe it's unavoidable. The little magazines it chooses to reprint from are beleaguered from without (no money from their protecting institutions) as well as from within (their increasingly timid Workshop- style poetry and prose). Add to this the comically Kremlin-like apparat that gleans and winnows Pushcart's selections--a three-page list of editors, contributing editors, roving, and special, and managing editors- -plus the clubby in-grouping (in this year's edition there's both a poem about and a mosaical memoir of Raymond Carver!)--and you approach something that techies call system-stress. The poetry here is quiescent, bladeless--and almost all by the same old names. The fiction's somewhat better--yet here also only three voices really ring out engagingly: Francine Prose's in ``Rubber Life''; Lydia Davis's (the ever-increasing comic economy of her melancholy) in ``Four Stories''; and newcomer Karen Minton's, with a really terrifying imaginative proposal about an earthquake along the New Madrid fault, in ``Like Hands on a Cave Wall.'' But it's an essay, Mary Karr's sensible, vigorous skewering of neo-formalist poetry, ``Against Decoration,'' that stands above everything else here. In the shadows of its strong profile, most of the rest of ``the best'' looks barely good enough.