As always in the Pushcart collections of stories, essays, and poems from the little magazines, there is a wide range of quality and a good balance of names familiar and scarcely known. Series editor and publisher Henderson has long had a sharp eye for talent and for the quirky, if not the trendy. Here, despite the expected occasional dud, he has culled interesting works from 44 sources ranging from the high-profile Paris Review to the low- profile The Baffler. The latter publication, in fact, chips in with one of the anthology's highlights, a lengthy essay titled ``Dark Age: Why Johnny Can't Dissent,'' by Tom Frank. Among other astute jabs, Frank eschews what passes for political ``dialogue'' from public officials and those on the campaign trail in favor of business journals and papers like the Wall Street Journal. There, he says, is the place ``to find serious talk about national affairs.'' Barry Lopez's tribute to the late Wallace Stegner is also a gem, as is Hope Edelman's ``Bruce Springsteen and the Story of Us,'' wherein she confesses to losing her virginity to the throbbing beat of ``Hungry Heart.'' There's a potent short story by S.L. Wisenberg called ``Big Ruthie Imagines Sex Without Pain,'' which may remind some of Grace Paley, and another fine piece of work by Daniel Orozco, ``The Bridge,'' in which a member of a painting crew comes face-to-face with a woman who's just leapt to her death. The poetry entries don't always measure up. Lackluster poems from Czeslaw Milosz and Seamus Heaney are offset by sharp work from Kim Addonizio and Loretta Collins, whose ``Fetish'' is a wickedly funny paean to shoes. The Pushcart series is the best of its kind and a worthy effort simply because Henderson ignores the latest trends and fads and zeroes in on quality wherever he happens to find it.