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Climbing the molehill
on 29 December 2011
Paul Chowder is a published poet but not famous. He's putting together an anthology of poetry that rhymes - "Only Rhymes" - and he's having trouble writing the 40 page introduction. He's also coming to terms with the fact that he will be known as an anthologist rather than a poet, and his relationship with his girlfriend is breaking down. He might also be having a breakdown. But he's going to let us readers into his world of poetry where he will tell us about poetry and the lives of the poets while he tries to reach his goals.
This is not a dramatic book. It doesn't have a plot or strong characters, and nothing much really happens. It sounds academic and in a way it is - you will learn things about poetry as you read - but it's written in a very chatty way so it's easy to read. That said, the only thing the book really hooked me on was the way the narrator spoke about the famous poets. We get insights into the lives of Poe, Longfellow, and a whole host of poets, as the well-read Chowder pontificates on their lives and work.
What's not so great to read is everything else. Chowder's home life is very ordinary and his "crisis" with his relationship is very ordinary - she's asking for a break, some time away, but in the end they get back together. His "crisis" over the poetry introduction is ongoing until the end when he writes it. So in effect, there are a lot of mountainous molehills that make up the bulk of the book.
I like Nicholson Baker's attempts at poetry - "Today the clouds have been sprayed on the sky with a number 63 narrow-gauge titanium sprayer tip" (p.138) - and overall Chowder is a genial, amiable narrator whom you want to succeed. It's just that when you finish you wonder what it was all about - a poet struggling to write an introduction to a poetry anthology: this counts? Strange what gets published and what gets read, isn't it? Baker's latest "House of Holes" is a much more interesting book I'd point readers to. If, like me, there's limited choice in reading material, "The Anthologist" is your choice in a "that'll do, pig" kind of way.