The Anthologist: A Novel
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Paul Chowder is trying to write the introduction to a new anthology of rhyming verse, but hes having a hard time getting started. The result of his fitful struggles is The Anthologist, Nicholson Bakers brilliantly funny and exquisite love story about poetry.
give it as a present, maybe in the 1890s, to prove to your girlfriend that you were a thoughtful swain. Somebody had written in it “To Edie from Bart.” It had the word Tennyson on the front in diagonally embossed script, and it was as heavy and soft as a catcher’s mitt. You could thump it with your fist. Hurl it at me, Alfred Lord, baby. Smack me with that fastball of a “low large moon.” So I read that. And when I quit my job at the mutual fund I bought The New Yorker Book of Poems—the big
that tower above him. “Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair,” say the words carved into the pedestal, in some lost language. Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana is playing its great hollow choral chords in the background, as it always does. My mother came to the last line. She read, “The lone and level sands stretch far away.” Present tense. An instance, there, of the necessary compression and deformation of speech: “lone” doesn’t quite make sense. Shelley had in mind the isolated, the forlorn, the
reading, they wanted her to read that poem. Till she completely lost track of the reality behind it and didn’t want anything to do with it and wished the anthologists would pick something else. And if you listen to her reading it, you’ll notice that there’s a tiny moment just after she says “And I let the fish go” before the tape hiss stops. In these old poetry recordings, the audio engineer always pulled the level down too soon, immediately after the last word, without any mental reverb time,
sprinkled some gin on his weenie—rest.” Dr. Seuss uses them: “A yawn is quite catching, you see, like a cough.” Ya-ta-ta, ta-ta-ta, ta-ta-ta, tum. Light. Or you can use them for a love scene: That’s by Mary Louise Ritter, a forgotten poet, out of an old anthology called Everybody’s Book of Short Poems, which once sold thousands of copies. Or you can use triplets to dispense advice: That’s a poem by Alice Carey that was very big a century ago. If you read it aloud, you might feel yourself
heard good things about. An anthology edited by Auden and Garrett, The Poet’s Tongue. So she rushes over to the Holiday Bookshop. “And I bought the damn thing,” she says. And she writes some of her best poems after this point. Including the first stanza of “Roman Fountain.” This is probably the best, happiest moment of her poetic life, right here, while she’s writing the letter to Ted Roethke, knowing she’s got new poems waiting inside her. In fact the letter may be better than any poem she