August 30, 2010 4:56 am

The Anthologist

The Anthologist, by Nicholson Baker, Pocket Books RRP£7.99, 243 pages

 

Baker made his name with intense micro-analyses of confined physical, emotional or mental spaces. The Anthologist applies the same scrutiny to Paul Chowder, a published poet with a degree of writer’s block.

Chowder’s inability to write the introduction to his anthology (and so claim the publisher’s cheque) is the last straw for his exasperated partner, who has moved out. Prevarication begets task avoidance: cleaning his office, laying a neighbour’s floor, shampooing the dog, all to the fluent melody of his ruminations on Swinburne’s killing of rhyme, Elizabethan monosyllabic impact or Ginsberg’s idea of rhythm.

Without a passing interest in poetry readers might find Chowder’s digressions and chirpy meditations on the metrics of his craft begin to flag; but Baker’s gentle novel is well written, with much to admire. Chowder is an amiable companion; his elusive inspiration and precarious income lend a wistful fragility to this pillow book of poetic ephemera.

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