Sunday, January 24, 2010

The Anthologist

Having a great time in PV. I've been reading, among other things, Nicholson Baker's wonderful new novel, The Anthologist. What a delight. Funny, charming, witty, scholarly, sophisticated. He really truly understands poetry, the lives of poets, the often contradictory motivations, desires and sensitivities of poets, like an expert. Spot on. Nailed it. I was laughing so hard at some parts I nearly died. Other parts, more of pleasant smile of recognition.

For those who don't know the story, the narrator, Paul Chowder, has been tasked to write a 40-page introduction to an anthology of poetry that rhymes. But his life is a mess, his girl-friend has just left him, and he keeps procrastinating getting the essay started, all the while telling us the most fascinating tidbits and theories and manifestos about poetry.

And did I say it was a smart and subtle book, too? For instance, he has a part where he is talking about Elizabeth Bishop, and her poem "The Fish" and her love-hate relationship with the poem, and how it is really all about writing (catching) the big poem, and how she wanted to cast it all over as a sonnet late in life, how she drank "like a fish" and etc. And then in the next chapter, he quotes as an example a forgotten (but "very big a century ago") poem by Alice Carey:

One cannot make bargains with blisses
Or catch them like fishes in nets
And sometimes the things that life misses
Help more than the things that it gets.

I thought the resonance to the Bishop story was well-done. Bravo. Highly recommended.

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