The Princeton Poetry Festival, though still young, will enjoy another beginning — this time in the Lewis Center for the Arts.

On Thursday, Oct. 5, the third biennial Princeton Poetry Festival kicked off the grand opening for the new Lewis Center of the Arts complex with a lyrical bang. Free and open to the public, the Festival brings together a diverse and highly acclaimed group of 12 poets from around the world to the Berlind Theater in the McCarter Theater Center. During the event, which will continue on Oct. 6, the poets read their work aloud and share their experiences in discussion panels called Verse and Adversity.

University professor of creative writing and Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Paul Muldoon is the organizer of the Festival, which is unique in its showcasing of poets from a variety of backgrounds and cultures.

“As a poet myself, I spend a lot of time traveling the world, often attending poetry festivals in far-flung spots,” Muldoon wrote in an email. “I meet a lot of poets on my travels, and I sign the really interesting ones to come to Princeton.”

The roster includes four poets from the United States: Eleanor Goodman, Amal Kassir, Robert Pinsky, and Jacquelyn Pope. On the international side, the Festival features Zang Di from China, Hester Knibbe from the Netherlands, Michael Longley from Northern Ireland, Nikola Madzirov from Macedonia, Ana Ristović from Serbia, Víctor Rodríguez-Núñez from Cuba, Sjón from Iceland, and Karen Solie from Canada.

“I like the fact that poetry takes so many forms around the world,” said Muldoon, noting that poetry can include “spells, prayers, curses, [and] political stump speeches.”

The Festival commenced at noon on Oct. 5 with poetry readings from all 12 poets and a panel discussion with Kassir, Longley, Ristović, Sjón, and Zang. This was followed by a second round of readings featuring Knibbe, Pope, Madzirov, Rodríguez-Núñez, and Solie. The day concluded with Pinsky and musician Laurence Hobgood performing PoemJazz, a collaborative act that brings together poetry and jazz music.

On Oct. 6, the festival will begin at 2 p.m. with readings from Pope, Ristović, and Sjón, move into a panel discussion with Knibbe, Madzirov, Pinsky, Pope, Rodríguez-Núñez, and Solie, and end with readings from Kassir, Longley, and Zang.

The poems themselves probe a multitude of different topics, from motherhood and inclement weather to estranged romantic relationships, political disunity, and bedbugs. During the event on Thursday, the poets occasionally recited their works in their native languages, in addition to providing English translations. In addition, the Festival's Verse and Adversity discussion panels explore how the poets navigate crises and disasters in the context of their profession as writers.

Poetry is an ancient and enduring literary art that emerged hand-in-hand with the invention of literature itself. When asked about its significance as an artistic medium in both the Princeton community and the world at large, Muldoon explained that he considers poetry to be an important tool in developing broad, sophisticated perspectives.

“Poetry is a way of helping us understand who we are and what we’re doing here,” he said. “It incorporates history, sociology, psychiatry, physics and chemistry. It’s got it all!”

Every semester, Muldoon teaches an advanced poetry class, one of several poetry courses offered to students via the Lewis Center’s creative writing program. The construction of the new complex will usher in an era of unprecedented access to the arts at the University, and Muldoon expressed enthusiasm over the elevated quality of future artistic education and opportunities.

“I’m very proud to have had a role in developing the Lewis Center,” he said. “As its first Chair, I had to think through the ideas behind much of what is now a reality. It’s very exciting. Princeton students are now spectacularly well served not only in the courses they’re able to take but in the settings in which they take them.”

The festival took place yesterday and will continue today from 2 to 6 p.m. in the Berlind Theater and McCarter Theater.

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