Virtual Roundtable on The Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics

First published in 1965, the Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics is a reference volume for poetry enthusiasts and literary scholars alike. Last year, a significantly revised fourth edition ...

First published in 1965, the Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics is a reference volume for poetry enthusiasts and literary scholars alike. Last year, a significantly revised fourth edition appeared, covering 110 nations, regions, and languages, and with 250 new entries on subjects ranging from “boustrophedon” (bidirectional texts) to “hip-hop poetry” and “anthem, national.” Public Books asked poets to respond in verse and prose to individual entries.

Bob Perelman literally weighs the Encyclopedia as he considers its version of “Avant-Garde Poetics.”

Ravi Shankar’s “Black Mountain School” imagines a conversation between its adherents.

Lyn Hejinian muses on “Cossante” and tests the entry’s rules for this medieval verse form by writing one.

Lytton Smith rearranges words from “England, Poetry of” to create a poem that tells a different story about the nation’s verse.

Lamenting the shortcomings of “Erotic Poetry,” Ravi Shankar finds poetic temptations aplenty elsewhere, then searches for Tamil language and culture in the entry on “Tamil Poetry and Poetics.”

In a trio of poems inspired by “Exegesis,” “The Frankfurt School,” and “Gender and Poetry,” Ali Alizadeh wonders why we read poetry in the first place.

Sawako Nakayasu offers a poetic tour of the entire “P” section of the Encyclopedia.


Bob Perelman



That is no object for an older sensorium,
or a tired one: two columns of print,
small font, tightly leaded, the lang.
compact, abbrev. where poss., poised
at the edge of legibility, the struggle
for space never giving the eye an inch
of rest, a thousand words a page
printed on acid-free paper as if
the acknowledged legislators were
aiming for eternity too.

How heavy the book is.
Though I swim and climb stairs and all,
still, to pick it up with hand and forearm grip
is not a task to be undertaken lightly

Product Dimensions: 2.1 x 7 x 10 inches
Shipping Weight: 5.7 pounds

Encyclopedias, like poems, have two primary tasks:
to inspire and to instruct. Their comic flaw
is having to be open to the present.
Think: hospital gown.

When I was 5 in Ohio, I remember jumping
from couch to chair to chair, trying
not to touch the floor (ocean), hurling
a rubber knife at selected targets, acting
as instructed/inspired by the heavy
brown leather Volume 3 BALFOUR–BOTH
of the Encyclopedia
Britannica open
to the spread of photos of battleships.

Bliss it was, above that watery
floor, to be possessed of such
sublime distinctions: Dreadnought
not Cruiser not Destroyer not
Escort, nothing was anything
I knew before and now everything
flowered together into a single
knowing/acting amid the exuberance
of these differing names of power
inextricably the direction of contemporary and historic



In its new edition the Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics continues to rely on the alphabet to pour oil on the contentions of its audience. There is no narrative; the Alphabet is the Demiurge who has so ordered matters that AUXESIS (ascending order: I may, I must, I can, I will, I do) comes before AVANT-GARDE POETICS and AZTEC POETRY (see Indigenous Americas, Poetry of the) follows.

Yet the title itself transgresses this decorous parataxis, since Poetics should take alphabetic precedence over Poetry, if only at the fifth letter. Putting Poetry first acknowledges the obvious: it is poetry that is the primary practice; poetry is the only begettor of poetics as well as its horizon of adjudication. But it is also obvious that poetry is seldom to be encountered in the pages of the PEPP, which are almost 100 percent poetics, tightly corded prose, and given the contention for articulate space, how could the designers have acted otherwise, facing the spectre of poetry’s spatial luxuriating, its compact singularities twerking or otherwise posturing down the page, so few words taking up so much valuable real estate?

So that when on page 524 at the end of FREE VERSE a complete poem irrupts, James Wright’s “Spring Images”—

Two athletes
Are dancing in the cathedral
Of the wind.

A butterfly lights on the branch
Of your green voice.

Small antelopes
Fall asleep in the ashes
Of the moon.

—one feels the ineffectuality of the particular with a real pang. Was it for this that hundreds of thoughtful words of abbrev. mention were shouldered aside?

The real question is who gets how many inches.

AVANT-GARDE POETICS: 59.5 column inches
DADA: 28.5
OULIPO: 20.75

The entries in the PEPP, the Preface tells us, are fivefold: terms and concepts; genres and forms; periods, schools, and movements; collectivities; relations to other practices. Some entries—PHILOSOPHY AND POETRY and SCIENCE AND POETRY, to name two—are, to me as a poet, a little bit inspiring. Not jumping-around-on-the-couch-throwing-a-rubber-knife inspiring, but bringing to mind shards of the big questions and piquing the desire to write.

But the measured entries I’ve listed above are something else. There, I’m an interested party, a component of various selfish memes jostling for space in the war of all against all. I read to see who’s mentioned and check out the formulations.




Through no fault of any of its users, avant-garde has become what Empson might call a complex word, something rather un-aerodynamic. In the face of this, Marjorie Perloff’s entry gathers the necessary parts: the prehistory of the term; its military-political implications; a perspicacious discussion of the osmotic boundaries dividing and connecting modernism and the avant-garde; state of the art capsule summaries of Dada and Italian & Russian Futurism; citation (and refutation) of Peter Burger’s Theory of the Avant-garde. Throughout the PEPP, the objectifying style obscures partisanship (though it’s clear enough in the number of column inches), so it’s nice to catch a hint of Perloffian exasperation in her dealings with Burger. After describing his theory of an unrepeatable, failed avant-garde, she adds with some annoyance that this claim “is still, somewhat surprisingly, the starting point for all theorizing on the avant-garde” and goes on demolish his evidence (since Duchamp was not a Dadaist or Surrealist). Given the 59.5 inches she had to work with, she shows how the job is done.

I should mention, in conclusion, my own very different take on the avant-garde in “My Avant-Garde Card” (New Literary History, 2010, Vol. 41, No. 4). There (and here too) I write as a poet frustrated by the increasing conventionality of the avant-garde. I deny none of the history of the term (and would have happily referred to Perloff’s capsule histories), but find that, for a writer in the present, the avant-garde is a too-happy fairy tale: we will have been ahead of our time and we will therefore live happily ever after. The more avant-garde poetics are reified (known in advance), the more doxological: Juliana Spahr’s catalog in The Transformation has, to my ear, the right note of world-weariness: “fragmentation, quotation, disruption, disjunction, agrammatical syntax, and so on.”1

Perloff is aware of both the persistence and the dilution of the avant-garde as it meets the present: “It is unlikely that the term avant-garde will disappear any time soon; on the contrary, it remains the key descriptor of the new, the unfamiliar, the daring, and the provocative. Indeed, in public parlance, accordingly, avant-garde means little more than ‘chic’ or ‘in.’”

In the entry’s conclusion, she emphasizes continuity: “While no manifesto today is going to ‘matter’ as did Marinetti’s of 1909, if we go back to the original definition of avant-garde as ‘ahead of its time,’ its staying power is evident. … Avant-gardism, it seems, appeals to our continuing belief that, in reconstituting the world of poetry and art, ‘It must change.’”

My friendly amendment to this would be to push back on any automatic association of avant-garde with futurity. The back-and-forth with prior example is too frequent: one can revivify the scare-quoted ‘ahead of its time’ only by going back an original definition; and ending with a praise-phrase from late Wallace Stevens is hardly a gesture of temporal procession. Perloff’s compound critical gaze habitually takes in century-wide vistas (Leevi Lehto and T. S. Eliot in the first chapter of Unoriginal Genius to give one of countless examples); more than a guardian of an ever-advanced avant-garde, she needs to be seen as a force for historic or let’s just say live poetry.


Jump to:

Bob Perelman, “The Sublime in Inches: Avant-Garde Poetics and the Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics, Fourth Edition”; Ravi Shankar, “Black Mountain School”; Lyn Hejinian, “PEPP for Poets: Cossante”; Lytton Smith, “England, Poetry of”; Ravi Shankar, “Erotic Poetry” & “Tamil Poetry”; Ali Alizadeh, Trio of poems; Sawako Nakayasu, “Close enough to each other for the ear to be affected”


Ravi Shankar


In this contribution, Shankar reimagines the Encyclopedia’s entry for “Black Mountain School” as a verse drama.


Setting: On the banks of Lake Eden, a building of white stucco, reinforced concrete, steel, glass, and granite freshly quarried from the site itself, in a mezzanine enclosed by a large parabolic window that looks out onto a few mist-covered peaks. A collection of dimly lit figures lounge along the floor, loll in chairs, and straddle the wooden desk. Heaps of books and journals are splayed open in an entropic heap, with titles like Origin and Jargon visible on some of the spines. Other clutter bristles in the corners: easels, canvas on stretchers, tap shoes, an armless mannequin, a miniature geodesic dome comprised of a lattice of interlocking icosahedrons, color fields that fade diffusely into and out of view. The figures take turns addressing each other, finishing one another’s thoughts in a kind of alternating running monologue that fills the room like running water from a moonlit mountain spring.


John Wieners: we make it                  and have made it

Charles Olson:            it is the kinetics of the thing

Hilda Morley:                         winged, in the form of a message

Paul Carroll:              despite the tomfoolery and the show

Joel Oppenheimer:                  this is how the revolution gets made

Paul Blackburn:          holding lovers whose flesh I would exchange for mine

Jonathan Williams:                 the ear fears for its sound-barriers

Robert Creeley:                       nothing else                 but to bite home

Denise Levertov:         return to your hunger’s turret

Larry Eigner:              to name is to destroy, yes, or at least to transfix or petrify

Ed Dorn:                                             there is no home                        no back.

Robert Duncan:                       across great scars of wrong

Creeley:                       the inside he as me saw in the dark there

Eigner:                                                 the momentary thickness of air

Blackburn:                                           flap/flap

Levertov:                     a lowland of space                        the perception of space

Oppenheimer:                         ritual                             ritual always

Dorn:                           the elaboration of whatever syntax

Williams:                                 the cabbage is also a globe of light

Morley:                                    a pause in which there is time still to get ready

Duncan:                                                 a string so taut it taunts the song

Eigner:                         wanting the impossible through this suspended vacuum

Carroll:                                    in exaltation,                             emerging

Wieners:                                                           for that is what we are made for

Olson:                                     what still is, in other words.


<i>Robert Creeley</i> (1972). Photograph by Elsa Dorfman. Wikimedia Commons

Robert Creeley (1972). Photograph by Elsa Dorfman. Wikimedia Commons

Jump to:

Bob Perelman, “The Sublime in Inches: Avant-Garde Poetics and the Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics, Fourth Edition”; Ravi Shankar, “Black Mountain School”; Lyn Hejinian, “PEPP for Poets: Cossante”; Lytton Smith, “England, Poetry of”; Ravi Shankar, “Erotic Poetry” & “Tamil Poetry”; Ali Alizadeh, Trio of poems; Sawako Nakayasu, “Close enough to each other for the ear to be affected”

Lyn Hejinian


To my left sit the New Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics (1993; 1434 pages) and the Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics, which is the newer edition, though it has dropped reference to newness from its title, and is longer (2012; 1639 pages). Through the addition of an excellent index, the editors of the most recent version have also made it more useful. But for whom, and for what?

Who looks up cossante?

I have done so, of course—and rather laboriously. Invited to write a review of one of the entries newly appearing in the 2012 PEPP, I decided to focus my attention on an entry addressed to a verse form; cossante is such an entry. Ultimately, I have found clearer definitions of the term online than in the PEPP.

According to, the cossante (or cosaute) is “A 11th-c courtly sung dance, originating in France, that gave its name to a poetic form in which many cantigas de amigo were composed. The couplets with an invariable single-line refrain are marked by repetition, parallelism, and interlaced phraseology. The subject-matter is usually slight, the treatment simple and vivid.”

According to the blog Oceantics, “The cossante is a Galician-Portuguese folk poetry form made popular in the 12th-14th centuries. Sung initially by women, it contains a weaving pattern known as leixa-pren, a dance term for two alternating lines of dancers and singers. With the rise of troubadours and jongleurs, the humble cossante found its way to royal courts where it became more formalized; but even when sung by men, they often retained the female narration. …”

For the student or scholar encountering the term and wanting to know what it means these are excellent and adequate definitions. But it is to the PEPP that one should go if one wants to use not just the term
but the form. There, albeit with difficulty and only after moving through some extraneous materials, which somewhat confuse rather than facilitate practical understanding, one can find what amount to directions for the composition of a cossante.

K. V. Browder begins her entry with a description of the verse form, which, including her examples, takes up over half the entry. The rest of the entry speculates on the origins of the form and the circumstances of its usage, links its decline to “the death of one of the most notable writers of the cossante, the Port. King Diniz, in 1325,” and directs our attention to “a more recent example of the cossante” in the “Lauds” section of W. H. Auden’s Horae Canonicae series.

The longest part of Browder’s entry, then, is descriptive. And, albeit with some effort (Browder’s description, despite the presence of an example in old Portuguese and a demonstration of a leixa-pren in a poem by Spenser, makes what writing workshop instructors would deem the mistake of “telling rather than showing”), a poet wanting to write a cossante could find directions for doing so in the 2012 PEPP.

Or could she? I think that, without having looked one up (in the 1991 Vintage paperback edition of Auden’s Collected Poems), I would have no sense of the spirit, the swing, of the thing. I could, under the right (and, in my milieu, unlikely) situation, employ the term cossante. But could I write one? Contrary to the observation offered by that the subject matter of the cossante “is usually slight, the treatment simple and vivid,” Browder suggests—though whether she is talking about the cossante in particular or the cantigas de amigo in general—that the poems are “sung by the Galician women as they remembered their departed lovers.” I can tune myself easily to that theme; my husband is a musician and does a considerable amount of touring every year, so the motif of the absent lover is ready at hand. Browder adds that, even when the cossantes were written by male poets, they often retained “the female speaker as well as the natural imagery that was prevalent in folk songs of the time.” Female speaker I am. And I think I can invoke natural imagery (whatever that is—presumably mention of tree boughs, storms, birds singing at dawn, but not the oppressive whirr of helicopters over a protest rally).

So, bolstered by the example of Auden’s “Lauds” (which is a fascinating poem, though whether it adheres closely to the classical cossante form or not I don’t know), let’s see if Browder’s description might be cast as compositional instructions. Let’s use the PEPP cossante entry as we might if it appeared in a handbook of forms for poets.

Browder says that a cossante is “composed of parallel couplets, the first ending in i sounds and the next ending in a sounds. The couplets are separated by a refrain, with each a couplet repeating the thought of the previous i couplet. In addition, the second line of the first i couplet becomes the first line of the second i couplet, and the a couplets follow the same pattern.”

Browder doesn’t say how many couplets are required—perhaps the number isn’t predetermined by the form. The Auden cossante has seven stanzas; I’ll go with that.

Browder also doesn’t indicate any constraint governing the length of the lines, nor, indeed, whether they are measured at all, either by syllables, stresses, or feet. Perhaps they aren’t measured at all. Auden’s are fairly irregular, but generally contain eight to ten syllables and four stresses. The irregularity of the metric foot contributes some awkwardness to the rhythm—as if a dancer had stumbled and was compensating, throwing in a couple of extra steps in order to regain her balance and catch up with the others. I’ll try to adhere, however loosely, to iambic pentameter.

As for the stipulation regarding end sounds, in the four-stanza example Browder provides (which, however, she identifies as the first half of a 13th-century alba or dawn song, with its own requisite theme of lovers separating as the sun rises lest they be caught), the couplets end as follows: frias / dizian; manhanas / cantavan; dizian / enmentarian; cantavan / enmentavan. Clearly the couplets’ lines don’t literally end with i or a
sounds; rather, those are the dominant vowels in the end words of their respective lines. Auden alternates between ing
and el/le/al word endings; that’s fine, but vowel sounds fascinate me, and I’ll attempt to play with the sonic variations of the a’s and i’s in English—American (California) English.

Finally, before I begin, a quick word about the refrain. Browder describes it, as we’ve seen, as separating the couplets. I suppose that is literally true, if we are thinking solely of its spatial location. But this refrain line, which is invariable throughout the poem, is appended to each couplet, modulating them into tercets, and modulating the purport of what’s said in the process. The refrain I will use is Dawn’s refrain, my darling’s distance—which sounds out an array of a and i sounds, and complicates the character of the lover’s absence: does it give the (female) speaker freedom or pain? Does he maintain it by choice—is it, in that sense, his—or is it forced upon him (and them)? Will dawn retrieve him, or send him farther away?


In thinking’s drift I’ve hidden in the night

First light brings in the singing of the birds

Dawn’s refrain, my darling’s distance


Audacious as a communard I wait

To draw day’s face demands a lover’s art

Dawn’s refrain, my darling’s distance


First light brings in the singing of the birds

Tides flirt with time and mimic love’s delight

Dawn’s refrain, my darling’s distance


To draw day’s face demands a lover’s art

I take black chalk and skate it round love’s hand

Dawn’s refrain, my darling’s distance


Tides flirt with time and mimic love’s delight

Desire cannot bind him to my side

Dawn’s refrain, my darling’s distance


I take black chalk and skate it round love’s hand

As ageless as an aftermath his tracks

Dawn’s refrain, my darling’s distance


Desire cannot bind him to my side

Nor bring him written glistening in my sight

Dawn’s refrain, my darling’s distance


Jump to:

Bob Perelman, “The Sublime in Inches: Avant-Garde Poetics and the Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics, Fourth Edition”; Ravi Shankar, “Black Mountain School”; Lyn Hejinian, “PEPP for Poets: Cossante”; Lytton Smith, “England, Poetry of”; Ravi Shankar, “Erotic Poetry” & “Tamil Poetry”; Ali Alizadeh, Trio of poems; Sawako Nakayasu, “Close enough to each other for the ear to be affected”

Lytton Smith


anthem, national, to the diasporic history underlying

first age

Made from animal’s skin. Written on the continent,

hagiographical but with fantastical elements carved

into stone shafts, the line between prose & poetry

experiments unclear. First-person voice to reveal

emotional intensity clearly the work of multiple

authors. In common, however, its historiography.

(Includes an unusual version of the Temptation.)

second age

Our literary experiments in insular languages.

Clergy, warriors, and workers bound into a holy

fictive frame, a landscape of Biblical paraphrase.

A tale-telling contest; a star-crossed lover after.

A later Italian period, far blurrier at the pinnacle

of Romance, where personified allegories meet the episodic,

the relentless will to integrate a polyphony.

third age

First printing press, and thereby English itself.

Country ballads at sheep-shearing festivals.

Of monarchy and the myriad ways political

and poetical. A much-anthologised pathway

to God, full of surprises and contradiction

so as to conceal all art. Colloquial voices,

then female experience. A sense of purpose.

fourth age

Changed the landscape, where isolation

is inseparable from the search for happiness,

where imagination is no longer the human

capacity for image-making, where the letter

is sent, where a jaunty humour makes poetry

contiguous with the daily, where experiments—

imagine, then, that the reader can write back.

fifth age

A world of childhood, but in extreme form.

A view of the travels faced by women (left

unfinished at the death). And to compose

before tuberculosis a personal memory drawn

from the feeling in the perceiver not fully

understood at the time. It continues to haunt,

it experiments, it is left unfinished at death.

sixth age

(They had either died or ceased writing.) Decline

of King Arthur’s Camelot into private grief

into national feeling into the avoidance of

into spasmodic modes and thus sensible.

Or laments for the aimlessness of modern life,

for scientific experiments with pastoral nostalgia,

with the sounds the fracturing of faith and form.

seventh age

Voices, as any single identifiable voice (abandoned),

carrying the perceived allusions of gentility beyond

the archipelago—emigration at its most meditative.

Beyond the archipelago? Experiments against inherited

beauty, a reworking in fraught sense & elusive syntax.

Dislocate if/as necessary the registered shifts to new

sites, an economy of prizes past codified manifestos—

et cetera usw.

anthem, national, to the diasporic history underlying


Author’s note: Poem composed with words found in the entry England, Poetry of
in the 
Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry

and Poetics (4th Ed., 2012)

<i>The Seeds and Fruits of English Poetry</i> (18451851). Ford Madox Brown. Ashmolean Museum, Oxford / Wikimedia Commons

The Seeds and Fruits of English Poetry (18451851). Ford Madox Brown. Ashmolean Museum, Oxford / Wikimedia Commons

Jump to:

Bob Perelman, “The Sublime in Inches: Avant-Garde Poetics and the Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics, Fourth Edition”; Ravi Shankar, “Black Mountain School”; Lyn Hejinian, “PEPP for Poets: Cossante”; Lytton Smith, “England, Poetry of”; Ravi Shankar, “Erotic Poetry” & “Tamil Poetry”; Ali Alizadeh, Trio of poems; Sawako Nakayasu, “Close enough to each other for the ear to be affected”


Ravi Shankar


In an encyclopedia with so many technical investigations of accentual-syllabic verse, binary-ternary meter, rhetorical devices, and the objective correlative, all valuable to poetic practice, no doubt, but dry, the realm of grammarians and prosody professors, one anticipates a particular frisson, a pulse of the blood in an entry like “Erotic Poetry.” Something to enliven the encyclopedia and thrill the reader. Therefore it’s a disappointment that the entry for erotic poetry is more of a limp noodle on a parched plate than electric with what charges the syllables of certain poems.

We begin with Mesopotamian marriage songs and the Song of Solomon and work our way toward Catullus and the Middle Age fabliaux , but where is Jayadeva’s Gita Govinda, that 12th-century love song of the dark lord that sexily describes Krishna’s courtship of the gopi Radha? Take Barbara Stoler Miller’s translation:


With sandal smeared the bluish body,

garlanded, with yellow clothes.

With jewelled earrings on the cheeks,

to and fro the smiling roves.


Carelessly the women play.


Burdened there by heavy breast,

one embraces passionately.

And here another, simple herder,

sings in elevated key.


Now that’s hot! Where are the ancient Chinese erotic poems so beautifully collected by Tony Barnstone and Chou Ping, the poems from ancient Daoist sex manuals, in prints and novels from the Ming Dynasty? Wouldn’t we like to know about Yuan Zhen’s Poem from of Huizhen?


Her warm red lips feel like they are melting.

I taste her breath like a fragrant orchid,

her creamy skin, her full jade flesh.

She feels strengthless, unable to move even a wrist,

though she’s so sensitive that her body tenses.

The light of her sweat is like pearls.

Her tangled hair is loose and black.

Happiness like this comes once in a thousand years.


Is once in a thousand years too frequent for the Princeton Encyclopedia? Or what about the nomadic hymns and erotic couplets of the pre-Islamic ode? The Kufic erotic poetry that Mohja Kahf calls “the soft porn of its time”? Kahf has written about eighth-century Abu Nuwas, who describes “anal sex with men and boys in no uncertain terms,” and she has translated eighth-century Dahna bint Mas-hal who laments:


If you want to know how the old man fared with me,

this is what went on:

He lolled me the whole night through,

and when dawn flashed his private lips,

thundered rainlessly,

and his key wilted in my lock.


Poor old man—too bad he didn’t live to see the age of the little blue pill!

The entry doesn’t fare much better in terms of contemporary poetry. We are given the examples of Pablo Neruda, Allen Ginsberg and Adrienne Rich, but so much has been written since then, from the vulgar to the voluptuous. Take the opening of Bernadette Mayer’s “First Turn to Me …” (As a warning, you might want to be somewhere private to read this …)


First turn to me after a shower,

you come inside me sideways as always


in the morning you ask me to be on top of you,

then we take a nap, we’re late for school


you arrive at night inspired and drunk,

there is no reason for our clothes


we take a bath and lie down facing each other,

then later we turn over, finally you come


we face each other and talk about childhood

as soon as I touch your penis I wind up coming


you stop by in the morning to say hello

we sit on the bed indian fashion not touching


in the middle of the night you come home

from a nightclub, we don’t get past the bureau


next day it’s the table, and after that the chair

because I want so much to sit you down & suck your cock


you ask me to hold your wrists, but then when I

touch your neck with both my hands you come


That’s just one example from countless others, from D. H. Lawrence to H. D., from Marianne Moore to C. P. Cavafy, all unmentioned. If someone wants a more thorough knowledge of the erotic poetry being written today, I recommend David Lehman’s anthology, published by Scribner, “The Best American Erotic Poems.” For I’m afraid that the Princeton Encyclopedia’s entry is just a tease—and not a particularly sexy or seductive one at that.

<i>A Reclining Woman and Her Lapdog</i> (c. 1640). Mir Afzal of Tun. British Museum / Wikimedia Commons

A Reclining Woman and Her Lapdog (c. 1640). Mir Afzal of Tun. British Museum / Wikimedia Commons


Jump to:

Bob Perelman, “The Sublime in Inches: Avant-Garde Poetics and the Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics, Fourth Edition”; Ravi Shankar, “Black Mountain School”; Lyn Hejinian, “PEPP for Poets: Cossante”; Lytton Smith, “England, Poetry of”; Ravi Shankar, “Erotic Poetry” & “Tamil Poetry”; Ali Alizadeh, Trio of poems; Sawako Nakayasu, “Close enough to each other for the ear to be affected”

Ravi Shankar


Take a taxonomy of tropes—undulating hills

rolling like the throes of nocturnal glistening,

forest and pasture far-flung to near at hand,

waiting, waiting for the beloved to reappear,

the seashore with its salt and roar, contracting

waves lapping in synchronicity with the moon

in phases, those whispered darkling phrases,

the verdant countryside bursting with acacia,

jambu, and teak, domestic bliss after the last

hard kiss has turned to a more familiar peck,

and then, no matter how glorious the romance,

wasteland: decrepitude, a bramble of varicose

veins, dust to rust twined to limbs of infinitude,

tongue raveling from Sri Lanka to South India.


Then there are the goddesses, Kali, gorging herself on corpses from the battlefield, Mariamman, whose raindrops fall like pearls from the skies, Meenakshi, fish-eyes, the three-breasted incarnation of Parvathi, garlanded in butter, who daily cleans the cookery in the courtyard of space after mad, chaotic, irresponsible Shiva strews the planets—our lives—in entropic disorder and further along, the epic of the Ankle Bracelet, Kannagi, the goddess of Chastity, who destroyed Madurai, known for its lotus flowers and its temple with the hall of a thousand pillars, when her husband was wrongfully beheaded for a crime he didn’t commit, flames leaping from the drops of blood that spurted from his neck, engulfing the city in an inferno.

Then yo, yo, yo, there’s Yogi B. spitting rhymes in time with a fly MC. So predictional, medicinal, occupational, too professional, missing the factual, flitting around the actual but baadu, I’m confused, where is the canonical? Like Sri Villiputhur? Who once compared Arjuna’s desire for Draupadi to a fish breaking through a riverbank’s mud to get at a mango? Or Periyalwar, the Alvar saint? Why only half a line for his daughter Antal She who was so inflamed by bhakti-poetry, so in love with the divine that she transmuted the spiritual to the corporeal and wrote love poems to Krishna so charged and transgressive that it’s hard to imagine a 13-year-old girl writing them. Bring me Krishna, she entreats the koel bird, and if you cannot, at least bring me his loincloth so that I can sniff him! Then she apocryphally disappears, leaving behind the Tiruppavai, parts of which are still recited in Madras weddings.

Then there’s the shadow outline of my mother tongue. Once I wrote a poem for you, my Tamil, bubbling through my body with a half-remembered light, the loops of your script that I never could decipher like a many-headed Hydra dancing in my dreams. A love song and an elegy that I will end with to strike a note of gladness that at least the Tamil language has been added to the Princeton Encyclopedia but with a hope that subsequent editions will swell like a poori.


You thicken my tongue with intonations

I understand but speak only haltingly,

like a newly blind man groping his way

across a traffic circle during rush hour.

Gradually, English has arrived, has sent ships

to squelch any lingering encampments

where a few childhood phrases tend fires

and whisper together about conspiracies.

Yet were a prankster, in dead of night,

to creep into my bedroom to fling a glass

of water in my face, I’d awaken, startled,

to curse, “Aayouh! Ena da! Ena wanum!

so deep are you in my bloodstream.


<i>Valluvar Kottam monument in Chennai, India, dedicated to the Tamil poet Thiruvalluvar</i>. Photograph by Joe Ravi. Wikimedia Commons

Valluvar Kottam monument in Chennai, India, dedicated to the Tamil poet Thiruvalluvar. Photograph by Joe Ravi. Wikimedia Commons


Jump to:

Bob Perelman, “The Sublime in Inches: Avant-Garde Poetics and the Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics, Fourth Edition”; Ravi Shankar, “Black Mountain School”; Lyn Hejinian, “PEPP for Poets: Cossante”; Lytton Smith, “England, Poetry of”; Ravi Shankar, “Erotic Poetry” & “Tamil Poetry”; Ali Alizadeh, Trio of poems; Sawako Nakayasu, “Close enough to each other for the ear to be affected”

Ali Alizadeh


[response to “Exegesis” entry]


                                                            What do we want

            from poetry? God knows

his own mysterious ways

& since he doesn’t exist

            it’s very sadly up to us

to interpret

absent road-signs

                                     blank maps


            by bad poets, bored shepherds

in his name.                 I’ve ghosted

                                                much of my own writing

                                    in a love poem (when i was

                                    naive enough to write that kinda thing)

                                    e.g., I expounded

                                    “the allegoric sense” of (I dunno)

                                    the faint spasm, loss

                                    & anticipation, that dread

                                    of again getting heart-broken

                                    by an unsuspecting beloved

                                    in concrete images

                                    alphabetical things on the page

                                    a.k.a. language. Now

                                    what would Plato make of that?

                                    There’s no Truth in the Written            (nice try, god

                                    of Old Testament)

                                    but can’t one extrapolate

                                    things (my worrying love

                                   or the—frankly nonexistent—love of an utterly non-existing

                                                creator) in a theo/teleo

                                    -logical narrative?

                                                                        The Nazarene’s prolonged trip

                                    from manger to Golgotha

                                                                        the embodiment of the meanings

                                    encrypted in the terror and gore

                                                                        of one-god’s poetic debut? Christ

                                    as a symbol?                        Dante

                                    knew better:                words are

                                                                      “both literal and allegorical.” Back

to my love poem

if I may: “you’re the dawn / that ends my dark night” (or somesuch)

            means the unfortunate recipient

            was luminous—literary—had very fair skin and hair?               A bright personality?

            Was she actually called

                                                            Dawn? God knows

only what gods know: brute desire

to pretend to be, when they’re not. Why

                                    do we need empty signs? & why

                                    do we need to know the meaning

                                    of semantic gobbledygook

                                    like “the stones can cry out, for God can

                                              from stones raise up children”

                                    just because there are readers

                                                who want to practice

                                    what (“divine”) poetry preaches? Well

                                    I very much doubt my Dawn

                                    would’ve been much of an adherent

                                    to the truth of my amorous text

                                    but I hope she did bring to “the picnic

                                    of my words”               [her own]      ‘meanings.’

                                    That sounds like fun. Potentially sensual.

                                                                                                            Is that

                                    why we read


Ali Alizadeh


[response to “Frankfurt School” entry]


Is this thing                              a thing?

It’s taking me time

            to write it. Worth


beyond personal amusement (if that)?

                                    I hope

it’ll get published,

                                    announce its maker’s cleverness

                        which may then be


                                                                        for (apparently) kudos

                        on the rare occasions

                        I’m allowed to boast. But

                        what’s to determine

                        the quantity of kudos

                        afforded to a poem

                        like this?                                  Labour-time? Aesthetic judgment?

                        The aura of tradition

                                                            withered & dimmed, the gloss

                        of mechanical reproduction

                                                            e.g., my thinking that thinking

                                                            is best thought through a poem

magical? Useless?

                        & what do we do

                                    with the lyric?             From Baudelaire to Celan

                                                                        it’s either the totality

                                                                        of exchange-value commodity

                                                                        or the horror of post-

                                                                        experience. Herr Walter

                                                                        needed to get his act together (sez Teddie)

                                                                        because a poem is not,

                                                                        finally, an inert thing …

                                    Isn’t it?

       Exceeds thingness

                                                                        via market necromancy.

                                    But (sez Walter:)

                                    isn’t art (as such) (thankfully) dead

                        in the age of photographs and films

                                    (& internet, & e-books, & 3D games) Herr Teddie?

                                                                                    C’mon, Walter.

                                                                                                Re-read your Baudelaire:

                                                                                    Flowers of Evil

                                                                                                grew into tall trees

                                                                                    towering over the culture industries

                                                                                                of the Second Empire. Lyric

                                                                                    poetry’s pointlessness after Auschwitz

                                                                                                ’cos the camps’ satanic mills

                                                                                     are far eviler

                                                                                                than a linguistic semblance

                                                                                    of (e.g.) the body

                                                                                 on the Island of Cythera, having “the morsel

                                                                                    between its thighs” nibbled at

                                                                        by birdies.       You get it


                                                                        The angel                     of history

                                                sees only

                                                                      the concatenation of corpses, wreckage, storm

                                                                        of progress, documents

                                                                        of barbarity. (Teddie’s nodding


                                                                                                Mein freund!

                                                                                                            That’s a poem!

                                                Records and surpasses

                                                the unbeatable darkness of being

                                                when we have nothing

                                                to counter value judgement

                                                our shit art and entertainment

                                                won’t foment sensation

                                                or solidarity, or philosophy, or universality

                                                or (yes!)

                                                                        TRUTH     and    REVOLUTION

                                                                        against aestheticised politics

                                                                        against instrumental reason

                                                                        against fetish and ideology

                                                                        So let’s paraphrase Marx:

                                                                        The point of poetry

                                                                        is not

to represent/play with/replicate/converse with/interpret/communicate/experiment with

                                                                        the world, but

                                                                        to change it.

Ali Alizadeh


[response to “Gender and Poetry” entry]


How do I write to you

or about you

& how

will you write to me

or about me so


losing you

won’t be          “unquestionably

the most poetical topic

in the world”?

Shall I (man) write

to/about an other

            other than you

 (woman);        sing of arms

                        of spears and shields?

                        That’s the Once Upon a Time:                        Achilles, Aeneas & Roland

                                                            there to occlude the cults

                                                            of Aphrodite, Qetesh & Turan.

                                                            And much worse:                    we framed

                                                            the prototype of your sex

                                                            for the Damned Fall. Guilty, as charged.

(but hadn’t I already

lost you           Lilith?)

                                                            I can’t/won’t

                                                            speak for the blind Puritan

                                                            his trite/brilliant “justification

                                                            of god’s ways to men.” Religion

                                                            is rotten & makes me sick. You

                                                                        shine with—what?—beauty   

                                                            of sexuality?    Hence the blason

                                                                        hymn to your body parts:

                                                                        with breasts like [insert simile]

                                                                        and thighs [adjective], buttocks

                                                                        [synecdoche], vagina, neck, lips, blah

… Renaissance erotic verse

                                                                        marginally more refined

                                                                        than postmodern porn.

(& what am I meant to do when I miss the touch of your fingers?

                                                                        See you as a figure of Nature,

                                                                        a Sublime hysteric who beguiles

                                                                        and terrifies and titillates

                                                                        and so on, but can’t

                                                                        according to Kant,

                                                                        understand herself, thanks

                                                                        to her “limited moral

                                                                        capacity”?       Romanticism

                                                                        & Kantian gumpf

                                                                        ran their course; modernism

                                                                        revived the spirit of Sappho, de Pisan,

                                                                        Mary Wroth in H. D., Lowell & Loy

                                                                        despite competitive boys, their toys & noise

                                                                        anti-sentimentalism, & speed …

                                                                        gender isn’t the void of creativity.

                                                                        I’ve been reformed and learnt my lessons.)

So why won’t it stop hurting?

Will I ever write anything

but the lament of losing you?

                                                                        Do you miss me too?


<i>Sappho</i>. Auguste Rodin. Wikimedia Commons

Sappho. Auguste Rodin. Wikimedia Commons


Jump to:

Bob Perelman, “The Sublime in Inches: Avant-Garde Poetics and the Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics, Fourth Edition”; Ravi Shankar, “Black Mountain School”; Lyn Hejinian, “PEPP for Poets: Cossante”; Lytton Smith, “England, Poetry of”; Ravi Shankar, “Erotic Poetry” & “Tamil Poetry”; Ali Alizadeh, Trio of poems; Sawako Nakayasu, “Close enough to each other for the ear to be affected”


Sawako Nakayasu

Paean to poem, painting and poetry. Poetry and painting, poem to paean. Palindrome. Palinode of place in paeonic measures. Panegyric in praise of the poetic. Pantun pattern poeticity. Parabasis punctures present poem for politics, paraclausithyron a prime persuasion principle for prominent paramour. Paralipsis as paradoxical: prove it. Parallelism is as parallelism does. Paraphrase, heresy of. (Parenthesis.) Partimen: Parnassian parody vs Plautus’s paroemiac, a punny Peter petra paronomasia. Pastiche, purchase of principle, podge-of-a-pie para-poem.

Pastoral. Prototypical plot propelled by Panhellenic performance. Pastourelle. Add prancing peasants.

Pathetic fallacy. Pathos possessed by perceptive poets—patronage of princes. Pre-existing platonic pauses in pattern poetry.

Payadas from the Pampas, penitential psalms by Protestants.

Pentameter or penthemimer, a performance of prosody. Period of proliferation for periphrasis. Prestige in patronage for privileged and preferred Persian poets.

Persona as prosopon (face), but not per sonare (to sound through). Persuasive personification: Psychomachia, Piers Plowman, The Pilgrim’s Progress.

Peru, poetry of. Prestige of Petrarchism or phalaecean of Phalaikos, or the population of Paradiso, poetry of the Philippines in a postconventional primordial philosophical polemic. Phonestheme a phenomenon, pentasyllable in pie quebrado, precise phonetic pitch produced prior to the prosodists. Presence of a plain style. Plaintive planctus or planh. Poetic practice of the Pléiade.

Ploce, ploce, ploce, ploce, ploce. Or ploke, ploche.
Ploche, plochely, plocheful: polyptoton. Plot.


Poet. Poète maudit. Poetess. Projecting the poetess. Paradigmatic poetess. Prototypical poetess. Poetic contests. Poetic function. Poetic license. Poetic madness. Poetics, Western. Poet laureate.


Poetry reading. Poetry slam. Poetry therapy. Poiesis. Point of view of Polish political verse. Politics and poetry. Polynesian poetry. And polysemy, and polysyndeton, and Portuguese poetry, and postcolonial poetics and postmodernism. And poststructuralism. Poulter’s measure replaced by pentameter. Prakrit poetry. Prague school or Parisian préciosité, pursuit of politesse and purity. Present a preromantic pregunta to the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, later promulgated by Pre-Raphaelitism. Power of the present, priamel or prelude. More priapea to your primitivism. Procedural poetry with proceleusmatic. The proem. Process and principle in poet’s physiology—projective verse. Promotions in Paradise Lost. Pronunciation of prophetic poetry. Prose poem with prose rhythm, prosodic feature analysis of verse in prosimetrum. In prosopopoeia. Provençal protest poetry pushes proverbs and psalms and metrical psalms. A pseudo-statement of psychology and poetry. Puerto Rico, poetry of. Pun on punctuation in Punjabi poetry.

Pure, pyrrhic, pythiambic poetry.

Author’s note: this quick tour of the “P” section of the Encyclopedias index uses uses each entry title at least once.


Jump to:

Bob Perelman, “The Sublime in Inches: Avant-Garde Poetics and the Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics, Fourth Edition”; Ravi Shankar, “Black Mountain School”; Lyn Hejinian, “PEPP for Poets: Cossante”; Lytton Smith, “England, Poetry of”; Ravi Shankar, “Erotic Poetry” & “Tamil Poetry”; Ali Alizadeh, Trio of poems; Sawako Nakayasu, “Close enough to each other for the ear to be affected” icon

  1. Juliana Spahr, The Transformation (Atelos, 2007), p. 155
Featured image: Closeup shot of the 1407 AD Latin Bible on display in Malmesbury Abbey, Wiltshire, England (2005). Photograph by Adrian Pingstone. Wikimedia Commons