Thursday, January 21, 2010

Nicholson Baker, Part 2

Thinking more on the Anthologist after listening to a Yale online course on Milton. Learned that Milton was the first to use unrhymed blank verse in English, outside of drama. Milton's personal defense was that this scheme is used by all great epic poets: Homer and Virgil not excepted. Spenser used rhyme, of course, but was an exception and perhaps was not entirely successful as an "epic" poet from Milton's perspective--too allegorical?. This relates to my sense, as I said in a previous post, that there is a lack of elevated tone in the book to give it's meanderings weight that we might expect in heroic poetry. Camille Paglia, after writing her poetry anthology Break Blow Burn of a few years ago bemoaned the current fad for long poems (mentions Wallace Stevens as the originator of the trend with A.R. Ammons and Ashbery as key examples). Paglia, like Baker, champions the short lyric. The lyric one can see entire on a single page. The density of a short poem. I am a partisan of epics, of prophetic disjunctions--Spenser, Milton, Blake, Shelley... these are my heroes but it seems like such a mode is absent. It is cheering to know there are still champions of poetry, especially lyrical poetry but will there ever again be an age of high idealism, of epic?

Friday, January 15, 2010

Louise Eldrich, Tracks

Another mixed bag, I received this book as a gift from my brother-in-law who really enjoyed it. I remember thinking 3/4s of the way through if Fleur Pilager was going to end up being Pauline by some weird twist of the narrative simply because the back of the book claimed her to be one of the most frightening characters in modern American literature. Pauline I found to be more startling if only because she is given fully range as a character. Fleur is rather flat.

Nicholson Baker, The Anthologist

Finished the Anthologist this afternoon at work. I was really excited about this book after having read an enthusiastic review by one of my favorite authors, John Crowley ( I have to say I was somewhat disappointed. The book, like Crowley's work, is rather mellow and moderate in tone, it's ecstasies are always moderated excstasies. But in Crowley this autumnal tone works, in Baker for me it didn't. The notion seems to be that his book, like his beloved poets, must go through much dross before poetic gold is found. The Anthologist too dwells over many elements of the mundane but these references for me rarely carried the air of potential meaning that often makes such breaks in the narrative appealing. His book is full of enjambments, which shouldn't be surprising since he tells us that he is the sort of poet he is no criticizing. His life is full of enjambments that he is attempting to put back together into some poetic order. I admire the drive towards lyricism (Shelley is my favorite poet, as it were) but neither the attempts at lyricism or the broken fragments of modernity seem to fully work here.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Paul Auster's Invisible

Just listened to Auster's new novel, my initial reaction was that it was a return to the novels I love best--NY trilogy, Oracle Night. But as I winded down I felt the novel became a bit too political. I kept thinking of Roth's American Pastoral which has a similar conflict of generations and is set around the same time. I also thought of Cormac McCarthy's Blood Meridian with Judge Holden's philosophy of war everlasting. These are two titanic novels to undertake and I feel if we compare Invisible to them it rather pales in comparison. That said the novel is very highly structured and very interesting, still piecing it together. I don't think it is his best novel to date as the Kirkus review dared to assert. Let's just say I suspend judgement for now.