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The Anthologist: Pluck the Day


I scheduled a date with Paul Chowder on Friday. We were supposed to hang out and talk about Sara Teasdale. He’d been going on about how some poets spend too much time thinking about death, like going to a movie and just waiting for the credits, which my dad taught me are very interesting if you know what to look for.

No, we needed love poems too, he said, and I wanted to ask him if he didn’t think it was ironic that he brought up Teasdale to illustrate his point, since she would no sooner talk about love than she’d be talking about death. I don’t think she could wrestle the two apart, and I suppose one could even argue that her love for Vachel Lindsay may have been the death of them both. I thought she might have known that when she wrote We two will pass through death and ages lengthen / Before you hear that sound again with me.

I threw a folding lawn chair in the back of my Dodge Journey and figured I’d meet him down by the water behind his barn where his white plastic chair was sinking into the mud. But at the last minute I got a call from a client. A homeowner had reported some sort of mysterious contamination that was making her deathly ill and could I please rush over and check it out? I hoped she hadn’t been reading any Teasdale poems.

Sort of a toss-up, I suppose. I could sit with a quirky blocked writer in mud up to my ankles while he poked at his leftover Meals on Wheels food tray. I’d have to ignore the multiple flesh wounds on his hands. Or I could suit up and inhale the intrigue of invisible, unknown contaminants attaching to my skin and nasal passages.

The Meals on Wheels thing, orange chicken and mis-shapen corn shifting from their sterile partitions into one cold globby mass, triggered my gag reflex. His neighbor, Nan, gave it to him. What kind of neighbor does this? I opted for the Contamination Behind Door Number Two. I couldn’t bring myself to watch Chowder eat, unless his flying spoons promised an appearance, whooshing in to nab the wrong-colored chicken and disappear.

I talked to him on the phone instead while I drove to the infestation site. He was a little put out at me for not coming down meet him, and what’s a little gagging anyway? You do that every time you brush your teeth, he said. But I told him that in my line of work, you take it when it comes, even when you don’t know what’s going to get all over you. “Carpe diem, Paul,” I said. “Seize the day.”

He corrected me. “Horace didn’t say that. Carpe diem doesn’t mean seize the day.”

It means pluck the day, he said. “What Horace had in mind was that you should gently pull on the day’s stem, as if it were, say, a wildflower or an olive, holding it with all the practiced care of your thumb and the side of your finger, which knows how to not crush easily crushed things — so that the day’s stalk or stem undergoes increasing tension and draws to a thinness, and a tightness, and then snaps softly away at its weakest point, perhaps leaking a little milky sap, and the flower, or the fruit, is released in your hand.”

I had to look that up. I’m a little like Maureen Doallas that way, and never quite know when Chowder is talking out his back hatch like he accused Whitman of doing. But it turns out it’s true. So there you go. Pluck, don’t seize.

I asked him if Horace knew that sometimes you have to pluck blueberries before they fully ripen, to keep them away from the birds. But was it right before they blush, or right after, and did he even know how to make them blush? I couldn’t remember which, even though I’d just read this somewhere. I seem to get these details wrong a lot. I wonder if I’ll be remembered better for my errors than the things I got right, like Horace and his day-seizing.

Chowder wondered the same, and said he said that he was often attacked by his own embarrassments “like those flying antibodies in Fantastic Voyage that glue themselves to the bad man’s face when he swims out of the arterial spaceship.”

“Listen, Paul,” I told him, “I’m at the house. I’ll have to take a rain check. I still want to ask you about those books you sleep with and how the sharp corners of an anthology don’t wake you when you roll over looking for Roz. But for now I’ve got my own fantastic voyage. I can only hope these are merely antibodies I’ll be swimming through.”

Photo by MShades, Creative Commons license 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?  Perhaps you could share a poem with four-beat lines in the comment box, or your own rhyming poem. Was there anything Chowder claimed that you just had to look up to see if it was really true?

For next week, we’ll wrap up this short discussion with chapters 13-17. But don’t worry — a week is still plenty time to pick up the book and jump in with us!

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


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Red #9

Your Comments

17 Comments so far

  1. This cracks me up, maybe more than Chowder himself did.

    A man who can see the poetry in ‘Orange Chicken and Mis-Shapen Corn’ deserves his meal. But will he get the girl?!

    I will be back sometime today for the comment poem. I’m meeting for coffee an artist from Canada whom I interviewed for a High Calling piece a while ago. I’ll raise my cup to Chowder. . . and LL (who got me that interview assignment).

  2. L. L. Barkat says:

    Lyla, this is delightful. I’m with Maureen. This cracks me up…

    This might be my favorite part: “So there you go. Pluck, don’t seize.” Or the blueberry angst. I liked that too.

    Who are you meeting, Maureen? That’s so cool! :)

  3. This is so funny. It was the first thing I read this morning. I couldn’t wait to read about your next adventure today with Paul Chowder. It didn’t disappoint. Thank you.

    Here is my comment this week. I actually wrote rhyming poems. That’s new for me. :0)

  4. Like a Day with Its Head Cut Off (Plucking the Day)

    Chasing the day round the chicken-fenced yard,
    plopping its neck on the chopping block (boom).
    I decapitate twenty-four hours but find
    it can still run frenetic, still squawking (ba-boom).
    The smelliest part is the dipping (I hear),
    the dip in boiled water for scalding;
    it loosens the feathers. What good is the day
    if it won’t stay put for the plucking?

  5. davis says:

    i shall cease to seize
    to grasp the day the time
    as if i could capture it
    and force it to be mine
    i will hold it in my heart
    like a berry on my tongue
    warm like the summer
    and let the juices run

    • Love that, Davis. As if we could force it.

      Kind of makes the “plucking” as Chowder describes it seem far more reasonable, doesn’t it? Almost like receiving the gift of the day, not lassoing it and wrestling it down.

  6. Poetry Antibodies


    Lyla got a call. Could she please rush
    over and check out the Chowder infestation

    site for antibodies to day-seizing poetry?
    A homeowner had reported hands

    with multiple flesh wounds leaking
    cold orange chicken crushed by mis-shapen

    plastic corn. I don’t suppose the bird is in
    a sterile tray, Lyla said.


    Pluck before swimming through.

    Nasal passages get details wrong. A lot.



    Gagging at the last minute to illustrate his
    point about death, Chowder figured he would

    sooner wrestle the mass of contaminants
    that blocked and got all over him than hang

    out talking to Sara Teasdale, who reported
    Meals on Wheels for waiting behind the barn

    for an appearance by Roz. In my line of work,
    Chowder said, whooshing spoons with teeth

    have more intrigue than deathly ill poems.


    Chowder might have opted to ignore or roll
    over the date he had scheduled with Lyla but,

    reading into her love for a mysterious Dodge
    Journey some sort of tension that needed to be

    attacked at its weakest point with practiced thumb
    and finger, he snaps to instead and, holding out

    an olive, said he hoped she’d seize him before
    the blueberries ripen and blush.

    That triggered a soft, quirky reflex in Lyla, stalk
    to stem. Would she take a rain check?


    Horace know.


    The fruit is released.


    Fantastic Voyage a wrap at last, Crowder is
    at the house, watching the movie and looking

    for the credits needed for his anthology. And Lyla,
    that little wildflower, is waiting to give it to Nan.

    • Maureen, I don’t even know what to say. There’s just too much here to even begin. But you’ve had me chuckling all afternoon.

    • L. L. Barkat says:

      oh, too much. I love all of it, but somehow this part was just so perfect…

      “That triggered a soft, quirky reflex in Lyla, stalk
      to stem. Would she take a rain check?”

  7. Correction (got to get the details right):


    Horace knew.


  1. This Week’s Top Ten Poetic Picks | TweetSpeak Poetry - August 9, 2012

    [...] you were along for our last book club, you agonized through Paul Chowder’s writer’s block as he tried to write (or not write) [...]

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