'You need the art in order to love the life'.
The narrator of this novel, a poet suffering from self-doubt, writer's block, financial uncertainty and relationship problems, concludes an anecdote about Luise Bogan and Theodore Roethke, two well-known poets who were briefly lovers, with the line I've just quoted. And there, it seems, is the heart of all his problems. Because Paul Chowder is just not sure if he has the art, and not knowing for sure, he can't be sure he loves the life. So he puts obstacles in his way, claims a deep love for rhyme in poetry, holds unconventional ideas about metre and scansion and cultivates a contempt for the sort of unrhymed modern verse that he actually both loves and practices. It's all an act, at some level, a way to trial-reject himself, to see if he can throw himself away because his art is not blindingly, self-evidently abiding - yet - and so, neither is his life. So far, so very good. But it also falls short a bit, the pivotal experience that seems to smash through his blockages - an attack of tears during a masterclass he is conducting during a poetry congress in Switzerland - seems oddly flat and pat, as if Baker decided that enough was enough and it was time to give Chowder some sort of new lease on his art and his life and be done with it.
Marcel Inhoff, a mean internet bully and habitual drinker, has a very thorough and useful review of this book here which I strongly suggest reading before you read the book, f you do.