The Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry & Poetics
By Roland Greene and Stephen Cushman
Princeton University Press – £34.95
Where to literally begin with regards reviewing this veritable tomb of a reference book, is anyone’s guess. With over a million words and more than one thousand entries, this fourth edition of The Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry & Poetics may well evolve into becoming the most important reference book in anyone’s library; serious writers, novelists, short story tellers and those with a penchant for language and poetry in particular.
Replete with a comprehensive synthesis of fully explained, requisite biographies and movements – and I’m not just talking the Confessional Poetry of say the ever great Allen Ginsberg, whose naked brilliance in Howl ‘’to stand before you speechless and intelligent and shaking with shame, rejected yet confessing out the soul’’ (page 296); but also countless other explanations, such as the historical background behind that of a more dense approach like French Prosody, which, ‘’from the 16th to the 19th c., certain poets (i.e. the vers measures a l’antique) based on differences in syllabic duration […] failed because this system was too complicated and too unlike the established one (page 526).
As a result, I’m hard pressed to think of anything remotely comparative; which, in and of itself, goes some way in partially substantiating why I wholeheartedly agree with the ringing endorsement of Classical Journal – who refer to these 1554 pages (and that’s not including the first-time, in-depth Index) as ‘’a reference work of distinction which all who work in the field of literary studies will find extremely useful if not, indeed, indispensable.’’
From the very first entry of Abecedarius (‘’a poem in which each line or stanza begins with a successive letter of the alphabet […] often a spiritual or meditative device in the ancient world, used for prayers, hymns, and prophecies […] an inveterate role as a tool for teaching children language’’) to the very last entry of Zulu Poetry (which, apart from being broken down into the three sections of Verse Structure, Early Zulu Poets and Post-Apartheid Era; informs us that: ‘’Zulu traditional poems, esp. praise poems, are composed in lines that are based on the stresses resulting from the meaning of the line and its natural and punctuated pauses. Intonation is important in Zulu praise poems because Zulu is a tonal lang., like most Af. Langs., and it is difficult to apply to Eng.’’); there’s a regal realisation, along with a quintessential understanding, that we are in good, reliable and erudite hands.
With more than 250 new entries, which expand upon recent developments in poetics (including cognitive poetics, electronic poetry and poetry slams) an array of movements (everything from formalism to hip-hop poetics) and related topics; this mighty reference book also contains broad international coverage – including articles on the poetries of more than one hundred and ten nations, languages and regions (such as English, Scottish, Welsh, Celtic and Cornish poetry).
Furthermore, there is expanded upon coverage of the poetry from non-Western, developing worlds, which, apart from the very brief example given above, includes further African poetry, along with numerous works from Latin America, East and South Asia as well as Eastern European nations.
All, or at least most of which, is aligned with considerable cross-referencing. The latter of which is particularly pertinent in relation to the numerous updated biographies.
Ever since its first publication in 1965, The Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry & Poetics has oft been referred to as the ultimate, authoritative reference with regards the study of poetry. With its menagerie of terms, concepts, schools, movements and international tradition(s), contained herein is an almost one-of-kind reference book.
It’s so good – it makes for interesting and stimulating reading in its own right; and there really aren’t many reference books one can say that about!