Sep 20, 2009

The eyes have it

It's obviously poetry week for me. After Bright Star, we have the new Nicholson Baker novel, The Anthologist, which is about this poet named Paul Choder who is attempting, and failing, to write a new introduction for an anthology of poems. I am a huge Baker fan, and am only half way through it but I haven't been enjoying his disquisitions on iambic pentameter nearly as much as I enjoyed his thoughts on corrugated straws in The Mezzanine. That's always been Baker's genius, it seems to me: to bend that considerable vocabulary of his to things that don't usually get described. There's a delightful, democratic, due-rectifying justice to it all. It's like Pop Art. Even his book about Updike was less about Updike's writing than it was about the assorted paraphenalia of literary fame — an unusual subject. Not so poetry, which seems pretty well covered from where I'm standing. Baker's written a literary book about a literary subject. Where's the fun in that, as Tom Hanks might say. That said, it's not all about iambic pentameter. there are still some great passages in the book, such as this one, where Chowder talks about how difficult it is to "meeting someone's eyes":—
Meet them how? They have two eyes. You have to choose one. I start by looking at the person's right eye, intently, and then I begin to feel that I'm hurting the feelings of the person's left eye. As she's telling her story, she thinks, Why is he concentrating his attentions so fixedly on my right eye? Is he deliberately looking away from my left eye? Is there something wrong with my left eye? So then I shift over, and I stare into her left eye, till it's as if I'm falling down an optical pipe.

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