Friday, January 11, 2013

The Anthologist by Nicholson Baker

This book is a novel about an anthology of poetry. Paul Chowder is a “sometime-published” poet.  He is currently struggling to write an introduction to a collection of poetry featuring ‘rhyme’.  This could be dry and boring and “Oh-look-at-me,-see-how-much-I-know-about-poetry” kind of book.  But somehow, Mr. Baker makes it work.  There where just a few shorts passages that were dry and preachy.  For the most part this was delightful and highly enjoyable book.  And yes, I actually learned some things I did not know about poetry…like Iambic pentameter.  We all know that the ‘pentameter” part means 5 beats to the line, but did you know that “Iambic” refers to the manner of stressing the beginning of the line?

A few of my favorite lines:
“Let’s have a look at this poem. Here it is going down. You can tell it’s a poem because it’s swimming is a little gel pack of white-space.”
“Each one-syllable word becomes a heavy, blunt chunk of butter that is melted and baked into the pound cake of the line”
And this delightful passage:
“One time, I remember, I was in a laundromat. It was a laundromat in Marseilles, France. “Marseilles.” Do you hear that? It’s a mattress of a word, with a lot of spring to it. “Marseilles.” I was in there, doing my laundry, and I look over, and there’s this guy there, this little guy. He was kind of pale, pasty looking. But moving with a methodical grace. And I said, Ed? And he looked up slowly. He nodded, cavernously. I said Ed Poe? And he said, Mm-hm. And then he peered closely at me. He said, Paul? Paul Chowder? And I said, Yes. Ed! How are you doing? Been a long time. He nodded. I said, I see you’re folding some underpants there.

He said, Yes I am. Doing my laundry, You?

I said I’m doing my laundry, too. And I mean, if you’re going to do your laundry, this place is probably as good as or better than any place I can think of. Marseilles, France. Or “Fronce,” as we say.

And I said, Can I venture to ask how the poetry’s going?

He said, It’s going pretty well. I wrote a poem, and I got paid for it, and it was in the newspaper.

And I said, That’s fantastic. What’s it called?

And he said, It’s called “The Raven.”

And I said, Holy sh**, Ed, “The Raven.” Great title. What’s it about?

And he said, It’s about a man who has a visit from a raven.

And I said, That sounds really promising. What does the raven stand for? Death and fate and horror and government wiretapping an stuff like that? And he just looked at me. He wasn’t about to explicate his poem for me. Which I understand. And I said, Well listen, take care. I grabbed my bag if laundry. I said, It’s been great seeing you. Stay happy. And he said, You too, it’s good seeing you. We waved again. Take care, bye-bye. Watch out for the bid swinging blade. And I walked out the door of the laundromat. Off down the street. And that was the time that I ran into Edgar Allan Poe.”

If you love poetry, as I do, you will love this book.

4 Stars (Rated PG-13; for some (few) vulgarities and a few F-words)

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