The Anthologist. Nicholson Baker. Reviewed. In the Argo Catalog.
Mr. Baker has written several books and this one has ensured that I will read at least a few more of them. At the heart of this charming book is a poet named Paul Chowder. Paul has had a modicum of success getting his poems published over the years. We meet him after he has compiled an anthology of poetry that, crime of crimes, rhymes. While his own poetry does not rhyme he perceives an importance to rhyming and fears that it has been abandoned for far too long. The narrative drive of the book is that he has to compose a suitable introduction to the volume, but he just can’t.
As plots go this does not seem to offer much but Mr. Baker grabs hold of every shred of power in the plot and uses it skillfully. The book slowly meanders through a philosophy of poetry and art. The reader is taught the “rules” of poetry and then taught why they do little more than get in the way. The voice in the book slowly reveals everything it knows about poetry and its power over certain people and it argues for the utility and importance of poetry to society. Perhaps the most positive claim I can make about this book is that it makes you want to go out and read some poetry and research the poets he discusses. I grabbed my old Elizabeth Bishop off the shelf just minutes after finishing this satisfying book.
If you are a lover of poetry and have been away a while I strongly recommend this book to you. If you are a regular reader of poetry and anthologies this book will give you insight into what it must be like to compile one. This book will not change your life but it may change your day. Please pick it up, or if not, then you should at least reread some of your favorite poems. Feel free to tell me what they are, I am always looking for new favorites.