We’ve been reading Nicholson Baker’s novel The Anthologist over at TweetSpeak Poetry, and today we finish it.
In these final chapters of the novel, we get another discussion of the evils of iambic pentameter, invented by the French for their language and imported into England by Geoffrey Chaucer (lesson: never trust a diplomat). Chowder is still missing his girlfriend Roz, but there seems to be some hope they will get back together. He’s preparing for a trip to Switzerland, where he will be part of a conference panel and teach a class. I am not surprised when he discovered four days before his flight leaves that his passport is expired.
But he makes it to Switzerland, he makes up (to some extent) with Roz, and he writes 23 poems on the airplane home. And – at last! – he writes the introduction – 230 pages of introduction.
I was relieved.
We don’t learn much about what’s in the introduction, only that it’s written and packed off to the editor, who accepts it with vague murmurs of “we need to cut it.”
And then I realize that I’ve been reading the introduction all along, that this novel The Anthologist is really an introduction – a rather bizarre introduction – to a collection of rhyming poems. It is, perhaps, how introductions to anthologies should be written – a reader would certainly be more apt to read introductions if they were written this way.
And it did what good introductions do – it explained why what was to follow was important. It placed the subject in a context. It gave you insights you might have missed or not understood otherwise.
It also injected the personality of the anthologist into the poems to an extraordinary degree, but isn’t that one of the things that poems, really good poems, can do – pull you into them, pull you into another world, into the mind and heart of the poet so closely that it becomes your own mind and heart?
As much as I would have liked to chuck a rock at his head, Paul Chowder taught me a few things. And I liked his self-deprecating humor and lack of inflated self-importance. I also liked the fact that he decides (wisely) not be try to teach again but instead to help paint houses.
There is much to like in The Anthologist, and much to learn. I’m glad I hung in there for the entire ride.
To see what’s happening (and concluding) discussion about The Anthologist, check out what Lyla Lindquist has to say at TweetSpeak Poetry today.
My two previous posts on The Anthologist: