The Anthologist: Conversation in a Laundromat

I moved upstairs to the kitchen to work. I don’t like the kitchen much. It reminds me of all the times I have to cook, and cooking is not something I enjoy. Sometimes when I cook, there’s a fire, and I’m not sure the fire extinguisher was recharged after the last one. It wasn’t my fault, that time. Someone left a pizza box in the oven and I preheated. I didn’t expect it since the cat is dead and we only put pizza in the oven to hide it from the cat.

My family left for Wisconsin for the week so I thought it would be quiet enough to work in the sunlight upstairs. While they were getting ready, the washing machine broke down. Only half their clothes were washed and they were spread out in piles all over the living room.

I took the rest to the laundromat. The last time I had to use the laundromat, I couldn’t find it. My town is only a mile long with one laundromat, and I lost it. I did find the building that said LAUNDROMAT in blue letters on the outside, but there were no washers and dryers inside. Just a bunch of used furniture for sale and a piano in the window. I even inquired on Facebook from my phone to see if any of my neighbors who I don’t talk to in person much but sometimes do on the Internet would know. They all said to go to the place with the piano in the window, but I really needed to get the clothes washed. I finally found it next to the dry cleaners. I don’t ask my neighbors for help on the Internet anymore.

I hauled my basket of boxer shorts and basketball jerseys inside and started loading a washer. There was a guy moving clothes from one machine to another. He looked like someone I should know, and then I remembered this book I’m reading for a book club and how the author met Edgar Allan Poe in a laundromat, and I said, “Paul? Paul Chowder? Is that you?”

He said, “Yes, yes it is.”

I asked how the introduction to his anthology was going. I knew he’d been trying to finish it forever and was suffering a terrible writer’s block. His girlfriend even left him after eight years together because he just wouldn’t write anything.

He said something about it being “too awful, too huge, it was like staring at death.”

I told him I knew just how that felt, that I had this article I had to write about a book but I couldn’t get it started even though I’d moved up to the kitchen to write by the window. Maybe I should work in a barn?

I thought to suggest he read something by Julia Cameron to help him with that block, but asked him about Poe instead. “Did you really run into him folding underpants in a laundromat? The Pit and the Pendulum was the first creepy thing I ever read, in fifth grade. After that, I wanted to read everything Poe had ever written.”

He said he just made up that story when he wasn’t writing the introduction to his poetry anthology.

“About that introduction, Paul,” I said. “I have to tell you, when you riffed on the four-beat line and how iambic pentameter is a crock, you lost me. Plumpskin Ploshkin? What is that?”

He nodded and mumbled something about bad enjambments, and I looked at my laundry to see if someone’s pajamas were lying on top.

“And another thing. Did you really say ‘poets are our designated grievers’ and if poets took drugs we wouldn’t have some of the great works? Didn’t you know about Allen Ginsberg tripping on LSD? I just read that somewhere.”

Chowder dropped the lid on the washer and shoved a couple of quarters in the slot. “Poetry is a controlled refinement of sobbing. We’ve got to face that,” he said. “And if that’s true, do we want to give drugs so that people won’t weep? No, because if we do, poetry will die.”

I was pulling lint off the dryer trap and worrying a little about whose lint had already been through this machine and was going to get all mixed with my own laundry. I told Chowder I thought he was being a little overly dramatic over the whole death of poetry just because someone didn’t cry hard enough to satisfy him.

He said, no, it was really true, and didn’t I sometimes swallow down those same kind of words like medicine after a loss? Didn’t I remember writing this, he wanted to know?

Her pink lace nighties littered
the floor, strewn by hands
that touched all of her

treasures, gone missing
when she closed the door

I turned a drawer upright
avoided the splinter as it slid
in the tracks, a single drop

splattered on the wood
shelf, when she said
I wasn’t going to cry

That’s how it works, he said. “The rhyming of rhymes is a powerful form of self-medication. All these poets, when they begin to feel  that they are descending into one of their personal canyons of despair, use rhyme to help themselves tightrope over it. Rhyming is the avoidance of mental pain by addicting yourself to what will happen next.”

Self-medicating rhyme? I told him that I wasn’t sure who was tripping now, but I needed to finish my laundry and get back to work. “Good luck on that introduction, Paul. And watch out for the big swinging blade.”

Photo by Bellah. Creative Commons via Flickr. Post by LW Lindquist.


We’re reading Nicholson Baker’s The Anthologist together. Are you with us for this fun summer read? Share your thoughts and add a link to your own blog if you posted about it there. How did you enjoy the chapters this week? How do you procrastinate (or break through procrastination)? Perhaps you could share a poem with four-beat lines in the comment box, or your own riff on why you hate (or love) iambic pentameter. Maybe you’d even like to self-medicate with a rhyming poem.

For next week, we’ll read chapters 7-12. There’s still time to pick up the book and jump in with us!

(In the interest of proper attribution, portions of the above, notably those quotes attributed to Chowder in dialogue, are taken from the book.)



Buy a year of Every Day Poems, just $5.99— Read a poem a day, become a better poet. In July we’re exploring the theme The Cento.

Red #9


  1. says

    Rhyming as self-medication. Huh. I’m going to have to think about that.

    I know some of us write because it’s a whole lot easier than scheduling an appointment, getting dressed, getting in the car, and getting a prescription filled. Some of us write to battle crazy.

    But this poetry thing. I’ve been reading a bunch of stuff lately about the ADD brain and the importance of meditation in helping to untangle thoughts and clear one’s head. Sitting quietly isn’t always the most effective way for some folks with ADD to meditate, however. Often, they are helped by movement, rhythm–pounding feet or bouncing balls.

    You and your laundromat friend may be on to something here, Miss Lyla. I mean if any of this is true.

  2. says

    Holy cow, I didn’t realize this book club was starting so soon. I will try and get the book from the library and follow as much as I can. This should be interesting, as I am currently following two other book clubs and reading up for a conference in September!

  3. says

    Hilarious! Absolutely wonderful, Lyla. The key to writing about this book is to adopt the style, and your approach works so well.

    My horror would be to be married to Paul Chowder, though here’s betting he and Roz come to some understanding. He needs her to write. (That’s written to be deliberately open to interpretation.) As I wrote at Glynn’s, this is a love story!

    • says

      Thank you, Maureen. I so appreciate that. It was a bit of a departure for me, but it turned out being sort of fun. :) And you’re right. I don’t know how else I could have written about it, although Glynn seemed to do quite fine. I appreciated your comments at his place as well.

      I haven’t quite finished the book, so I’m anxious now to see if your prediction about Roz holds true.

  4. says

    i THINK i’m BEing TAUGHT boom
    a FUNny LITtle STORY boom
    to WHICH i MUST enDURE boom

    there…that’s better. humph.

  5. says

    i THINK i’m BEing TAUGHT boom
    THOUGH i CAN’T be SURE boom
    a FUNny LITtle STORY boom
    to WHICH i MUST enDURE boom

    or maybe it’s like this…?
    still learning.

  6. says

    Well, crap. Now I wish I had signed on for this read. But I cannot, I simply CANNOT add one.more.thing. This post is just dripping with invitation to come along and join the party – and it reads like the party is sorta fun. Enjoy.

  7. says

    Lyla–boy, have I missed your writing! Not that you haven’t been writing, but that I haven’t taken time to stop by and read it.

    you make me smile. oh so much.

    Good job leading the not-discussion on the not-post you wrote :-)

    Carry on!

  8. L. L. Barkat says

    This is just so delightful. You and Chowder in the laundromat talking Poe.

    And I love your nightie poem. I especially love the last line. Not sure if you meant it that way, but it has this nice double meaning of both your tears and hers. Hard to tell who’s doing the mourning here. Which is just the point.

    • says

      Now that I know where it is, I might have to go to the laundromat more often. 😉

      I had just walked through about 20 rooms in a woman’s turn of the century three-story home, all ransacked by intruders, and she held up stoically almost the whole way. Everything in her bedroom was tossed, and I found one errant dresser drawer by accident. It was one of those moments.

  9. says

    Lyla, I didn’t want to disappoint you. It’s Wednesday.


    Chowder cat is dead, and Paul said
    something about it being “too awful,

    too huge” and then moved it to hide
    it to cook it enough to enjoy it at last

    in the kitchen with dry preheated pizza
    I couldn’t finish after my introduction

    to that book club author I found reading
    in his blue boxer shorts on the Internet

    who recharged a bunch of my neighbors
    in the one building in town where Julia

    was pulling lint off Ginsberg’s pajamas
    and Paul’s girlfriend was living terrible

    writer’s block after Allen had riffed on
    the mixed joys of tripping on Facebook

    for eight years and got all dramatic
    and creepy when the Laundromat went

    quiet. It wasn’t my fault Julia mumbled
    she wanted to read everything she could

    about poets on drugs who slot quarters
    in four beats just to rhyme in time.

  10. L. L. Barkat says

    I just read this again, because, I don’t know… it’s so fun :)

    And I just got the thing about you looking to see if somebody’s pajamas were on top.

    And I’m also just noticing there are a lot of pajamas or nighties or whatever in this post. Maybe the laundromat brings that out in a person :)

  11. Paul Willingham says

    Whenever I frequented the Laundromat I worked hard not to talk to anyone unless perchance I actually knew the person. The last thing I would do would be to attempt to strike up a conversation with a well-known author or better yet a favorite author.

    Speaking of laundromats dredged up this memory from our early child rearing years.


    Squeezing water out diapers from the diaper pail
    It is taking too long, I will have to inhale
    Take another deep breath and finish the wringing
    Carry to the laundry center while my eyes are stinging

    The apartment building’s laundry is down in the basement
    With the five other tenants we share the equipment
    I impatiently await the Maytag’s spinning to be done
    As the baby no doubt needs clean diapers pinned on

    But ere I escape with my pile of folded white cotton
    A neighbor with a basket of laundry ambles slowly in
    When she sees my wicker basket heaped with my washin’
    She gasps, covers her mouth and her face turns ashen

    She said you’ve tainted the machine with those soiled diapers
    I’d rather launder my linens in a tub full of vipers
    I told her not to worry, there was no problem
    I rinsed them in the toilet before I washed ‘em

  12. says

    Lyla, oh, you have me holding my sides this morning. Love, love, love what you wrote this week! Captured those first six chapters, rescued a small child from a large spider, and managed to put it all into words…on time! Big smile!!

  13. says

    OK, so I just scrolled through and read all the posts here and at Glynn’s place. Sheesh! And here’s me being all serious, because after carrying around The Anthologist and a spiral notebook with all my favorite quotes from the first six chapters, and waiting on the muse to giggle, it actually whispered kind of hard words that I had to write, because I live the self-medicated writing life. I’m one who writes to understand, figure out, make sense of, and I’m only funny, and that’s up for interpretation, about once every six months — just ask my family. ;\

    So…I guess we’ll just see if Paul Chowder can pull the irreverent and humorous out of me this week. Perhaps I should have taken my time in the laundromat in 95 degree heat a little more seriously last week. Me? I sat there with seven washers full, sweat dripping down my legs, reading The Anthologist, feeling sadly like I know him, and never once contemplating a conversation with anyone there.

    Loads of Guatemala
    mission clothes, broken washer
    at home, here now
    wash, read, dry, fold
    times seven. Hours? BOOM!

    Yes, sad. But there it is. Four beat lines and a boom! :)

    • says

      Oh, Cindee, I loved your piece. Paul Chowder says a lot of things that are actually quite serious, just sneaks them past in such a clever way. So I can see coming out with those deeper thoughts as well.

      Your washer too? Oh, sad. Always at travel time. :)

  14. says

    Lyla I had a really really hard time reading this in a public space. I was in pure stitches.

    I am glad that you don’t ask your neighbours for directions anymore.

  15. says

    Ah, such a delight to read. You know, you don’t get sidetracked as much as Chowder does. His rabbit trails…

    But both of you make me want to skip the convenience of at-home laundry and go to the laundromat for a change.

    I did find it amusing that he equated a rest with a boom. :)

    (Oh, and I only read 2 of the 6 chapters! Yikes!)


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