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This review is taken from PN Review 111, Volume 23 Number 1, September - October 1996.

Contemporary Poets, 1996 Sixth edition (St James Press, Detroit) £64.00

This is an encyclopedia, more or less, of living English language poets (plus Sorley Maclean and Eilean Ni Chuilleanin) from Dannie Abse (Welsh) to Fay Zwicky (Australian). The general editor, Thomas Riggs, has included 779 poets 'who were alive at the beginning of the revision process'. Wisely, he does not claim to be definitive: 'each edition has had the same goal - to provide biographical information, as well as brief critical essays, on some of the world's most important English-language poets'.

There is a preface by Anthony Thwaite citing his notorious poem based on names culled from a previous edition of this enterprise and also remarking on the lack of community between poets of different nations and the difficulty of finding books in an English-speaking country by poets from outside that particular country. One function of Contemporary Poets could be to inform enterprising booksellers although at the sixth time of asking this might be a forlorn hope.

A first question is to ask how comprehensive it is. A little number crunching is required. Of the 779 poets 330 are American, 190 British, 80 Canadian, 46 Australian, 23 New Zealander, 27 Irish, 22 Scottish and 7 Welsh (as opposed to British), 19 Indian, 13 South African and there are smaller numbers from other African, Caribbean, European and Asian states. Interestingly there is no 'England' category. 180 poets are women with the highest proportion from India (7 ...

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