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The Anthologist by Nicolson Baker

Simon & Schuster

By Jane Durrell · December 16th, 2009 · Lit
Nicholson Baker is a word nut, in a good way. In The Anthologist his narrator and perhaps alter ego, poet Paul Chowder, muses on “divulge” in the very first paragraph — “What a juicy word. Truth opening its petals. Truth smells like Chinese food and sweat” — and you’re off on a tear through Paul’s passionate beliefs about rhyme in poetry: “The tongue is a rhyming fool”; the truth about iambic pentameter, “in its deepest essence a six-beat line”; and long poems that should be “cut down to a few green stalks of asparagus amid the roughage.” Surprise, this is a laugh-out-loud funny book.

Paul is blogging to you, the reader, to keep from writing an introduction to his poetry anthology, now at the publisher’s. He’s blocked on that, and he’s got another problem. Roz, who lived with him for eight years, has moved out. She comes back when he really needs her — to de-flea the dog, for instance — or when he cuts his finger, but she doesn’t stay. He buys a clothes line to put up in memory of the one she strung, and he washes a tablecloth to hang on it so she’ll know, passing by, that he’s cleanly. Meanwhile, this blocked writer contemplates a weekly podcast — “Welcome to Chowder’s Flying Spoonful of Rhyme. This is Chowder’s Poetry Cheatsheet, Chowder’s Thimblesquirt of Verse” — but decides he could never keep it up. He does, however, throw off more opinions than an op-ed writer. Why haiku “makes perfect, thrilling sense in Japanese, and makes no sense whatsoever in English,” is one. Does Paul write the introduction? Does Roz come back? The answer to one of these questions is “sort of” and to the other is “yes,” but I’ll not say which is which. It’s too much fun getting there to spoil it for you. Grade: A



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