The Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry & Poetics, 4th Edition
ed. Roland Greene, Stephen Cushman, Clare Cavanagh, and Jahan Ramazani
Princeton University Press, 2012
1680 pages / $49.50 buy from Amazon or Powell’s
1. After graduating from college and while in the process of applying to MFA programs, I bought a copy of The Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry & Poetics having come across it in the discount bins of a book retailer down at the local strip mall hell lost somewhere between the suburbs of New Jersey and the rest of Southern California.
2. This was the hardcover 3rd edition published in 1993—previous editions appeared in 1974 and 1963.
3. Out of a total 1100 articles, the new paperback 4th edition presents 250 “entirely new” entries.
4. The Encyclopedia is what’s commonly referred to as a desk reference, i.e., it’s handy to have round.
5. With my 3rd edition I set out to learn EVERYTHING about the reading and writing of poems.
6. I’ve found this a daunting task. Nonetheless, my 3rd edition has been well used over the years.
7. It is a little geeky feeling—but nonetheless stimulating!—to pour over entries, allowing various elements of chance to guide where your floating interests and eyes may take you.
8. A Bibliomancy Tool: righteously applied in the proper MFA program deconditioning environment it just might save a young budding poet or two from the curse of professionalization. Or else it will studiously assist in that very further professionalization.
9. Five types of entries are included: “terms and concepts; genres and forms; periods, schools, and movements; the poetries of nations, regions, disciplines, and social practices such as linguistics, religion, and science.” These “are provisional, and many items could move among them.”
10. “A large number of entries are written by scholars of poetries other than English—a Hispanist on pastoral, a scholar of the French Renaissance on epidexis, a Persianist on panegyric.”
11. There are odd gaps, of course. Some are simply rather mysterious, perhaps a casual lack of attention, while others expose more ominous possibilities.
12. In his recent review of the Encyclopedia published in Chicago Review, poet Kent Johnson shakes down Marjorie Perloff’s entry on “Avant-Garde Poetics” for its undeniably Anglo-focus.
13. “Avant-Garde Poetics” is substantial—as long, in fact, as most of the entries given to national poetries, save the ones reserved for the United States and England, which are, Ut Imperium Poesis, multiply longer than any others. It names dozens of poets (and other artists) and a large number of tendencies and movements, from the era of Rimbaud up to the US “post-avant” present. And with exception of a passing reference to the Brazilian brothers Augusto and Haroldo de Campos and their Concretista moment, not a single poet or group outside the Anglo-American/European experience is acknowledged. The entire Iberian Peninsula, even, goes missing! —Kent Johnson
14. Of course, as the preface announces, there “are discrete entries on the poetries of Mexico, Peru, Argentina, Chile, and many other countries.” But Johnson’s point is that the framing of those entries when combined with Perloff’s entry neglect an accurate accounting of any “avant-garde” representation outside of that Anglo in nature. And there’s also even a “Brit-dismissal.”
15. …so many North American vanguard poets, old and new, are named in her essay, while no British writers, except for Wyndham Lewis and D. H. Lawrence, make it in. In fact, though, it’s quite obvious that Left experimental poetry in the UK (J. H. Prynne and Tom Raworth being inspirational touchstones) is more radical by far, ideologically and aesthetically, than is the US post-avant. That numerous of these poets, including Prynne, have been pointedly critical of Language poetics and its late-stage cultural recuperation makes Perloff ’s “Brit-dismissal” especially intriguing. – Kent Johnson
16. Get your cudgel ready and remember: battles over poetry don’t have to be a drag! Or too serious! Enjoy yourself! Invite friends (enemies?) over, dig in, get some drinks, etc., choose sides (or don’t!), and pick a battle. Have some fun.
17. On bored Saturday afternoons you might lie around flipping through the entries and discover new things.
18. “Vates” from the early Greek “two concepts of the poet—as crafts man (maker) and as inspired seer or quasi-priest” which may be traced down through received perception among the Latin poets. Note how “the concept of the inspired poet” exists through “parallels of the underlying concept [which] are prevalent around the world.”
19. Orpheus (who set rocks and trees to dancing) gets due mention in the “vates” entry. As does Plato’s exaggeration concerning the poet’s claims to divine inspiration/madness which gives a parenthetical nod to the awesomely named “Furor Poeticus” entry.
20. Poet, philosopher, artist, historian, magician, casual reader, or psychologist, this is the encyclopedia for you.
21. On an opposing page from an entry on “Hittite Poetry” is one on “Homoeoteleuton” which “first occurs in Aristotle but (though the phenomenon may be found in Gorgias) is normally applied to classical Latin.” This refers to similarly ending sound words. “But it should be understood that homoeoteleuton is not an instance of rhyme, strictly speaking, for, in inflectional languages, similarity of word ending is the rule rather than the exception, so often can be scarcely avoided. In noninflected, positional languages, such as English, by contrast, the poet must labor for the phonic echo.” How about that?
22. Memorize as much as possible. Toss out random facts upon any evening cocktail hour. Conduct studies of poetic knowledge among strangers. Entertain large cats!
23. Under “Hip-hop Poetics” which also covers “Rap” there’s information on the “many subgenres. Whether based in regions (such as East Coast, West Coast, and Dirty South), styles and themes (such as crunk, gangsta, political, neosoul, club bangers, and reggaetón) or period (such as old school and new school).” And how “the music arose from postindustrial urban environments, most notably, the South Bronx” along with the importance of the 1978 studio track “Rapper’s Delight” which conflates the terms: “the title mentions ‘rapper’ and the opening words name ‘hip-hop’.”
24. Sourcebook for all your poet songbook needs.
25. “Portrait of a discipline—the worldwide field of poetry studies—in the process of development.”