I meant to sneak this post in under the wire for National Poetry Month, but April came to a rapid and surprising end before I was able to. Never mind. The Anthologist is a book for all seasons.
The Anthologist follows the slightly scattered thoughts of poet Paul Chowder about poetry and life as he struggles to produce an introduction to an anthology of poetry he’s editing. Historically I have not been a fan of books with thin plots, or books about alienated writers who have scared off their significant others by being impossible and now need to mope about it. Or of books that casually insult Ezra Pound (I know! I know! He was so insultable! But he was also a really good poet! “La Fraisne”!).
But Nicholson Baker reminds me strongly of Martin Millar, one of my absolute favorite writers in all the land. They share a sweet, straightforward, disarming narrative style that makes it impossible to dislike their characters. Even when I totally disagreed with Paul Chowder on the subject of women, or Ezra Pound (look, I like Ezra Pound), or iambic pentameter (I can see his point about the rest, but there isn’t always a rest), I still did really want him to get his introduction written, and convince Roz to come back to him again.
I also really liked when he said about Swinburne. I am a fan of Teh Swinburne (yes, that’s what I’m calling him now), even though I recognize that a lot of his poems are very silly. Paul Chowder says, basically, that Swinburne rhymed too many rhymes and broke the rhyming apparatus. That he rhymed so many things with so many other things, that the poetry world just said, Enough already with the rhymes! and produced T.S. Eliot and Ezra Pound so that our ears could have a break. That explanation isn’t meant to be taken literally, I don’t think. It’s just charming.
In general, I really loved the way Paul Chowder talked about poetry. Sometimes I agreed and sometimes I didn’t, but either way I was interested in his viewpoint, which was always engaging, and always worth having.
That’s all I have to say about that, I’m afraid, and it doesn’t do the book justice. I don’t know what else to say, except that if you find poetry a little intimidating, this may be an excellent book to de-intimidate you. And look, it must be charming if I don’t mind about the insults to Ezra Pound.
Other people who read it (gosh, I haven’t done this in ages):
Tell me if I missed yours!