(ARC, Simon & Schuster 2009)
I saw this ARC* at my parents’ and picked it up, having read Jenny’s positive review of the book back in May. The Anthologist is the story of poet Paul Chowder, struggling with the introduction to a new anthology of poetry and his current inability to write more poetry. His girlfriend, Roz, seemingly unable to cope any more with Paul’s inability to settle down to actually writing and his chronic procrastination, has moved out, and he misses her. While chronicling his life as he tries and fails to write his introduction, talks to the neighbours, tries to win back Roz, and prepares for a trip to Switzerland to talk about poetry, he muses about poetry and poets.
That’s pretty much it in terms of plot, but Chowder as narrator is entertaining and mostly not too self-pitying. He’s very opinionated when it comes to poetry, extolling the virtues of Sara Teasdale and James Fenton, amongst others, and the delights of rhyme and metre, but the thing that does come across is his delight in and enthusiasm for poetry, even if he’s come to the conclusion that he doesn’t write very good poetry himself. Wisely, perhaps, Baker doesn’t give any examples of Chowder’s poetry.
I did enjoy this slim book; it’s beautifully written, and could serve equally well as an introduction to the analysis and appreciation of poetry. Chowder’s enthusiasms and his strong dislikes, such as his antipathy to Ezra Pound (which seems based more on his dislike of Pound’s personal characteristics and his adulation by others, than of Pound’s poetry as such), are conveyed well: the book inspired me to seek out poetry by Sara Teasdale, whom he praises highly. In fact, there are so many poets mentioned of whom I’ve never heard before that it made me feel rather poorly-educated (though being a Briton, I may have other cultural references). He certainly made me want to read Swinburne, even if he sees Swinburne’s effortless production of stanza after stanza of rhymed verse as inevitably producing a reaction, in the form of modernists such as Eliot and Pound.
*My sister works in publishing and thus my parents’ house has quite a few proof copies of books lying around.