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The Career Poet as Contemporary Protagonist --- "The Anthologist: A Novel" by Nicholson Baker

By Rich Fisher


Tulsa, Oklahoma – Robert Frost said that writing free verse is like playing tennis with the net down. T.S. Eliot once wrote, "No verse is free for the man who wants to do a good job." But where do you stand on the issue? How do you like your poems? Is there room for free verse in your own poetic cosmos? On this edition of StudioTulsa, we speak about such with the prolific author Nicholson Baker. Baker's latest book, a novel called "The Anthologist," has been getting rave reviews --- it's about a moderately successful poet with a severe, career-stopping case of writer's block. To get over this block, he takes on the following assignment: Write an introduction to a wide-ranging collection of poems that he particularly cherishes. Indeed, the novel's hero, Paul Chowder, is being asked to articulate why exactly he loves those poems that he does --- and why he became a poet in the first place, and what the purpose of poetry is, and how poetry even began, and why poetry-writers differ from prose-writers, and so forth. As David Orr has noted in The New York Times Book Review, "Baker has written a novel about poetry that's actually about poetry --- and that is also startlingly perceptive and ardent, both as a work of fiction and as a representation of the kind of thinking that poetry readers do. . . . Chowder is possibly the most appealing narrator Baker has invented."