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2 April 2011

The Anthologist by Nicholson Baker

Paul Chowder is in love with poetry and is determined to show us why. In a delightfully rambling story we're taken through a challenging period of his life. It's a story shared with Roz, various neighbours and friends, his dog Smacko, and the mouse.

Throughout the first-person narrative he conveys his thoughts on poetry and poets, rhyming and free verse, and in particular, rhythm. Having little regard for the iambic pentameter or the trochaic octameter, he maintains all good poetry is based around an underlying four beat or three beat rhythm - occasionally adorned with strategically positioned rests.

There are obvious parallels with western music and lyrical poetry. Especially with regard to the ballad stanza, which he describes as, "Four lines, four beats in each line, and the third line drives towards the fourth."

It's certainly an interesting and entertaining point of view. One argued by multiple examples from some of the greats: Edward Lear, Kipling, Edgar Allan Poe, Lord Alfred Tennyson, Mary Louise Ritter, Alice Carey, Vachel Lindsay, Sara Teasdale, T.S. Eliot plus many others - and liberal use of his sharpie.

Yet despite all this poetry knowledge and his previous successes he reveals, in a dryly comic manner, his lack of confidence and loss of motivation for creating the introduction to his poetry anthology.

Ultimately, this highly readable book is able to both entertain and inform. The way the prose subtly, almost subconsciously, imbibes gems of poetry knowledge and understanding upon the reader, is the mark of highly creative and skilled writer.

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