The narrator of this novel, a likeable poet named Paul Chowder, recounts his struggles to write the Introductory essay to a poetry anthology, Only Rhyme. He’s suffering from writer’s block – in a way, he knows too much. It’s hard for him to condense into prose his knowledge about poetry’s history, theory and significance. And simultaneously he’s trying to manage everyday life: his relationship with Roz, who’s fed up with his laziness; his dog’s flea situation, and various wounds from handyman accidents. It’s a lot to deal with.
But, in the prolonged process of not-writing his Introduction, Paul connects intimately with us readers -- as if we were sitting with him, beers-in-hand, on white plastic chairs in his shady driveway. From him we learn illuminating tidbits about poetry’s powerful structures of meter and rhyme, trivia about renowned poets’ foibles, and gossip about the politics of becoming a laureate. Not much happens, plot wise, so I can tell you without spoiling the book’s ending that Paul does get going on his Introduction and starts writing poems again, and also that though she’s moved out, Roz loves him still. And Paul shares with us his most important discovery – how to find subjects worth writing about, and what makes daily living worth all the confusion.
The Anthologist is funny, sly, and inspiring, with an artful down-to-earth humanity that connects poems, beats and ballads with lives full of cuts and bruises, pies and neighbors.
[Nicholson Baker lives in Maine, and has written several other acclaimed novels and non-fiction works, including Double Fold, which won the 2002 National Book Critics Circle Award.]