The Anthologist

Paul Chowder is a self-confessed "study in failure", a middle-aged poet who admits his career is a joke. His girlfriend has just left him and he is struggling to write the introduction to his forthcoming anthology of poems, a task he likens to "staring at death". Nicholson Baker's deliciously offbeat comic story does for poetry what Nick Hornby's High Fidelity did for pop music: both illuminate the enriching nature of art through the obsessions that animate and console men down on their luck.

While not writing, Chowder enthuses about the poetry that is his lifeline - Dryden, Auden, Wendy Cope, even the anonymous words of trance music. He is excited by Louise Bogan's lines capturing depression: "At midnight tears/ Run in your ears". Chowder believes we all want poems to rhyme. Rhyming is the antidote to despair "by addicting yourself to what will happen next". With his trademark breeziness, Baker ultimately says something exuberant about the redemptive power of verse. As Chowder puts it: "Many many beginnings. That feeling of setting forth."

The Anthologist
Nicholson Baker
Simon & Schuster, 245pp, £14.99

This article first appeared in the 14 September 2009 issue of the New Statesman, Where next?