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This review is taken from PN Review 218, Volume 40 Number 6, July - August 2014.

Districts of the Unknown edward hirsch, A Poet’s Glossary (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) $30 (hb) $24 (ebook)

There is no doubting that Edward Hirsch’s A Poet’s Glossary is a breezeblock behemoth of a book; at just over 700 pages it provides an admirably ambitious source of information. It is a compendium that stretches its Everest arc from ‘abecederian’ (defined – more expansively than this – as an alphabetical acrostic with its origins in sacred texts) to ‘zeugma’ (deriving from the Greek word meaning ‘yoke’, a pairing of two unlike nouns bridged to dramatise incongruity through a verb or adjective), between which a vast and (impressively) international journey through poetic techniques, movements, historical and cultural terms, etymologies and poetic examples takes place. It is the kind of range and breadth that encourages comical demonstration: where else, within one book, could ‘hobo poetry’ (practised by the legendary Joe Hill and T. Bone Slim) sling its own vagrant song careering into the holographic, quasi-dimensional experience of ‘holopoetry’, as pioneered by the visual artist Eduardo Kac? Likewise it must be rare for any reading experience to introduce the Egyptian school of ‘Dīwān’ poets (1913–21), who championed the voice of the individual and anticipated modernist revolution in Arabic poetry, before in a matter of sentences striding into Philip Sidney’s Old Arcadia and the use of the ‘dizain’.

Browsing through A Poet’s Glossary, poetry offers up its own city: opening the obscure side-alleys, rumoured histories and creative scaffolding into a strolling meander through the well known, the heard of but only slightly known and the frequently surprising off the map, into the fold districts of the unknown. It seems ...


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