A friend just returned my copy of The Anthologist by Nicholson Baker. It’s the story of a hapless Paul Chowder, a poet unlucky in love, as he moves through an excruciating struggle to write an introduction to an anthology of poetry called Only Rhyme. Which is what the novel becomes – the introduction.
The novel succeeds in two ways: it is an idiosyncratic and insightful discussion of poets and poetry – a love song to rhythm and rhyme. But even more amusing and excruciating is the portrayal of his inability to get started. You grind your teeth at his procrastination (as does his lady love – hence the difficulties): he cleans his office, mows the lawn, moves his chair around the yard, goes shopping and enjoys many moments with a lovely mouse who shares his house. It is excruciating because it is so accurate (here I am, writing this and not writing that difficult scene in the novel I’m not working on right now).
At one point he writes, “A poem is not a poem. It’s a plum.”
If you’re an uncertain reader of poetry or interested in the creative process, it’s well worth the read.