THE ANTHOLOGIST by Nicholas Baker

As literary enticements go, spending the duration of a novel in the company of a washed-up poet with writer's block and girlfriend issues is not exactly a high-ranker. Two pages into Nicholson Baker's The Anthologist, the narrator tells us: "My life is a lie. My career is a joke. I'm a study in failure." He's been trying to write an introduction to his anthology of rhyming poetry for so long, his partner has left him in exasperation. The high-point of his career so far has been a series of well-received "flying spoon" poems. But now, as he settles into his 50s, his inspiration is drying up, as are his finances. The only thing not drying up is his daily intake of Newcastle Brown Ale.

So why is The Anthologist such a delight? It's down to Baker's easygoing and effortlessly comic prose, and the affable charm his narrator emanates from the very first line: "Hello, this is Paul Chowder, and I'm going to try to tell you everything I know."

This narrative, it turns out, is an elaborate strategy to avoid sitting down and writing the 40-page introduction and sending it off to his anxious publisher. Instead, Chowder takes us on a ramble around the poetic form, and into the neurotic mind of the professional poet. Along the way, he'll attempt to convince us that the adoption of the iambic pentameter into English-language verse was a big mistake, and that it's a crying shame so few poems have dared to rhyme since modernism crashed the party. He'll get all shivery over lines by Swinburne and Louise Bogan. He'll warn us about the perils of ultra-extreme enjambment.

Chowder's personal history of poetry is of course a shambles. He keeps dropping his Sharpie whiteboard pen, and cutting his finger, and breaking off to update us on his ex-girlfriend Roz or his dog Smacko or the goings-on in his mellow New England neighbourhood. On one occasion he opens his freezer for no particular reason and contemplates the "motionless mists in there" – a lovely example of Baker's gift for locating beauty in the mundane. The irony here is that Chowder, with his tipsy ramblings, infects us with so much more passion for poetry than any dry old anthology introduction ever could. Sometimes, procrastination can be a wonderful thing.