We were delighted to host the launch of the Fourth Edition of The Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics at the London Review Bookshop last Thursday evening. Contributors, well-wishers and lifelong fans gathered together to celebrate this magnificent book. Among them was the contributor on Poetry of Russia, Andrew Kahn, who was kind enough to share his admiration for this much-loved work in a speech:
“Like the appearance of a new James Bond film, the appearance of the fourth edition of The Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics—004!—is cause for jubilation.
This new edition is a magnificent book and achievement. Was there ever a work that taught us more about the ideal and the practical, the historical and the theoretical? Was there ever a work that in a single volume ranged across so many forms of the imagination? Perhaps the Bible, but then for many of its readers, and I include myself, the Princeton Encyclopedia is something of a Bible, containing revelations, divine writings, miracles of concision and lightly worn authority, the precepts of wisdom literature and abundant storytelling. Except that the God of Poetics wears her learning lightly. While deeply serious, and executed with great technical finish, this Good Book is a lovable and playful work. One would want to praise it in terms commensurate it with its contents and achievement. One would therefore want to be a ‘Meistersinger’ (p. 860) gripped by a ‘furor poeticus’ (p.531), ‘inspired’ (p.709) with ‘intensity’ (p. 710) to dithyrambic flights (p.371), to new heights of ‘agudeza’ (p.26), to praise Princeton Press ‘phonesthemically’ (p.1038) in rhyme, near rhyme or even ottava rima, to lavish ‘hovering accents’ (p.640) or devise hypograms (p.649), to roar with leonine rhymes or fire a cybertext, and then to repeat the pythiambic ode, a paplindrome of rispetto or, if you all joined in, to stage a ‘poetry slam’ (p.1070)—a Zulu izibongo (p. 1553) or an epinikion in the Pindaric mode.
It’s not news that the art of poetry has many rules and forms from ‘agudeza’ to ‘Zulu’. But the Princeton Encyclopedia always manages to make it new. This indispensable manual has a history of being savoured and cherished, and the fourth edition will instruct and inspire faithful users and new readers alike. Its reach is global–the expanded selection of national chapters bears witness to the universality and vitality of poetry. It’s worth its considerable weight in gold (but well priced so have no fear). But there’s a further aspect to the Princeton Encyclopedia that I find profoundly wonderful. Poetry as we see it assembled, explored, taxonomized, appreciated and renewed here is a mirror of civilizations and hearts and minds. It turns out that poetry is nothing less than the sum total of virtually everything that goes into thinking and writing about life. In fact, one has only to glance at topical chapters to see that poetry IS life because poetry goes hand in hand with anthropology, belief, culture, dance, gender, history, linguistics, music, painting, philosophy, politics, psychology, religion, science, technology and therapy. And if I might strike a personal note, there are many reference works about poetry, but there is only one that commands universal respect. Contributing a chapter on my subject, and writing an essayistic account of the lives and lines of the poets of Russia, was a privilege and uplifting responsibility.
Horace, a grand old man of poet legislators and sometimes a killjoy, says ‘Nil admirari est’—‘It’s better not to admire’. But the learning, style and sheer scale of Princeton Encyclopedia is worthy of Horace’s own famous Poetics, now fitted for our times yet ‘more lasting than bronze’. 007 may only have so many lives, 004 is imperishable! The contributors, editors and publishers deserve all our ungrudging admiration, congratulations and thanks for the latest incarnation of this tremendous work of learning and spirit.”
Andrew Kahn — Contributor, Poetry of Russia