Six more chapters, more than three fourths of the way in the book, and our hero Paul Chowder still hasn’t written his introduction to the volume of poems. He’s visited Longfellow’s house, laid a plank floor, cleaned up the barn, sliced his fingers a few times, and bought a bead making kit.
And he’s talked a lot about poetry.
Led by Lyla Lindquist at Tweetspeak Poetry, we’ve been reading The Anthologist by Nichloson Baker. It claims to be a novel, and I think it’s that, but it could also be that introduction that Chowder is unable to start for his anthology of poems that rhyme. Whatever it is, it’s also a fairly in-depth if idiosyncratic introduction to the poetry of the late 19th and 20th centuries.
Chowder clearly thinks Walt Whitman is suspect, the French started it all by translating Poe into free verse (in French, of course), and the abominations of abominations is Ezra Pound. Still, the introduction awaits. Chowder seems to have moved beyond even feeling guilty about not doing it. My own anxiety has lessened as well; it’s amazing how anxious I was getting about a fictional character avoiding doing his work. I considered suggesting that he read Julia Cameron’s The Artist Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity, which is all about dealing with creative blocks (and the book we discussed at TweetSpeak before this one).
I’d been having the nagging feeling that I’d read something like this before, and I think I’ve identified it – The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams. The Anthologist is like a Hitchhiker’s Guide to Poetry, except in this case we know the answer and the question. (If you haven’t read the Hitchhiker series, the hero of the story has the answer to everything in the universe – the number 3. He simply has to find the question.)
Chowder takes down rabbit hole after rabbit hole (anything to avoid writing that introduction). But what is slowly emerging is the understanding that there is a method to what often seems like stream of consciousness madness. Something is indeed going on here, and it’s about more than the decline of poetry that rhymes and similar global disasters.
We’re on a roller coaster ride of poetry, catching glimpses of Whitman, Swinburne, Teasdale, Millay, Lindsay, Eliot, Pound (the villain), Elizabeth Bishop, and even Billy Collins and Ted Kooser. We learn where the U.S. poet laureate program came from, and how Vachel Lindsay killed himself by drinking Lysol. We see all the politics of poetry, and who gets cut from what anthology. And we keep reading, even if listening to Chowder is like driking water from a fire hose.
Can you tell I’m enjoying this crazy weird book?
Please visit TweetSpeak Poetry to see what Lyla Lindquist has cooked up to try to explain the chapters we’re discussing today.