Wednesday, November 13, 2013

THE ANTHOLOGIST by Nicholson Baker

I have to admit this book put me to sleep at times.  (On page 205, the narrator accuses the reader of "probably falling asleep."  Guilty as charged.)  Other than that small failing, it's a pretty neat book.  Paul Chowder is a poet who laments the loss of rhyming poetry.  He's compiling an anthology of some of his favorites, called Only Rhyme, but he's stuck on the introduction.  In fact, his procrastination sends his girlfriend Roz packing.  She knows Paul's potential but becomes exasperated with his inertia.  Toward the end of the book, he compares writing poetry to mowing the lawn.  You can start anywhere on the lawn, and you'll finish eventually, but he finds he gets bogged down in his writing, not knowing where to start.  Other than his poetry obsession, Paul's life is pretty pathetic--buying a badminton set but not having anyone to play with, getting excited about a new broom, and observing the habits of a mouse, who wouldn't be a bad pet actually if he didn't leave droppings in the kitchen.  That's about all there is, as far as the plot is concerned, but the book is chock-full of Paul's musings on a variety of both well-known and little-known poets, their work, and their demons.  He brands free verse poets as basically lazy, and that may be a pretty accurate label, given that his own poetry doesn't rhyme.  This book gave me a greater appreciation of poetry, especially of meter and the necessary "rest" at the end of most lines, than any English class.  Paul answers an interesting question at a reading about whether one gets a better appreciation of a poem by reading it silently from the page or by listening to someone read it aloud.  He makes a case for both as distinct experiences.  Listening to a poem allows one to enjoy the rhythm without knowing the length of the poem, while reading it from the page offers a visual appreciation of the stanzas—and the ability to see the enjambments.  I love new vocabulary words.

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