In his wonderful novel The Anthologist: A Novel, Nicholson Baker features Paul Chowder, a "once-in-a-while-published kind of poet" who has agreed to create a poetry anthology and write its introduction. And for 241 of that novel's 243 pages, Paul procrastinates, busying himself with this and that while he, in a delightful fashion, muses about the history, structure, and beauty of poetry. Then, Paul focuses and, in the novel's final pages, completes his introduction and book. To a large extent, TA is about poetry. But through Paul, TA also shows how procrastination can be a working style. And it shows how procrastination can create collateral damage with Roz, Paul's girlfriend, moving out because she is exasperated with his dilatory work style and ambivalent commitments.
In THE TRAVELING SPRINKLER, Paul Chowder returns. In this novel, a few years have passed and Paul really misses Roz, who has a new boyfriend. At the same time, Paul, at 55, has reached the age when the compositional power of most poets is in eclipse. Finally, Paul is outraged at the Obama administration and its policy of drone warfare. But his long poem exploring drone warfare and its repercussions is hopelessly stalled. In TTS, Baker shows how the non-linear and whimsical Paul finds solutions to these three problems. Once again, wait for the final few pages.
The jacket copy of TTS points out that Paul, thwarted in love and poetry, turns, in this period of need, to songwriting, which he learns with Logic, a music composition program from Apple. As he explores Logic, Paul treats the reader to some thoughts about poetry. But he is mostly thinking about music, which he knows as a lover of pop songs and as a former not-bad bassoonist. These thoughts on music occur to Paul as he goes to the health club, smokes cigars in his car, takes care of his neighbor's chickens, attends services in a Quaker meeting house, and so on. Paul Chowder, in other words, is back. And he is, once again, giving his unconscious mind space to work.
So what's the point of the traveling sprinkler? First it's a comment on Baker's amusing style, which is deliberately diffuse. Observes Paul: "Say, for example, that you've decided to mention the traveling sprinkler in your poem. The moment you mention it, it starts to twirl and hiss and spray water everywhere. It becomes the controlling metaphor. There's no help for it, you're going to get wet." Second, the traveling sprinkler, which follows the S-shaped coils of its hose, takes an eccentric path to success. Says Paul: "The brilliance of the whole thing comes in its ability to ride the source of its power."
Rounded up and recommended.