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Best Words, Best Order: Essays on Poetry Paperback – June 15, 1997

ISBN-13: 978-0312172299 ISBN-10: 031217229X

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Palgrave Macmillan (June 15, 1997)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 031217229X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312172299
  • Product Dimensions: 8.2 x 5.5 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,381,088 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

As its title implies, Stephen Dobyns's rigorous collection of essays about poetry celebrates Coleridge's dictum that poetry is the best words in the best order. Dobyns's probing examinations of the elements of poetry--metaphor, pacing, tone--and his study of the evolution of free verse are not for Sunday-sunset versifiers. They are strenuous, meaty, and wholly satisfying fare, intended for serious students of poetry. Dobyns, the author of eight volumes of poetry (and 17 novels), believes, like Baudelaire, that "each poem ... has an optimum number of words [and] an optimum number of pieces of information ... and to go over or under even by one word weakens the whole." Poetry, he says, belongs to the reader, not the writer, and as readers, "at the close of the poem, we must not only feel that our expectations have been met but that our lives have been increased, if only to a small degree." And, if that's not challenge enough for the writer, add to it "that the conclusion of a given piece must appear both inevitable and surprising." The final third of the book comprises chapters on four writers, each of whom represents to Dobyns an ideal in poetry: Rainer Maria Rilke, who Dobyns says worked harder than any other poet to develop and change his work; Osip Mandelstam, an exemplar of moral centeredness; Anton Chekhov, for his sense of personal freedom; and Yannis Ritsos, for his "sense of the mystery that surrounds us."

From Library Journal

Novelist, poet, and teacher Dobyns collects here 13 lectures in which he distinguishes between two kinds of poetry. The first is that of the French symbolists and their followers (Eliot, Pound, Stevens), who felt that "a poem was like a bright light" for the reader to bask in rather than understand. The second type of poem, and the one Dobyns himself favors, is "a small machine [made] out of words" that re-creates the poet's feelings "in another human being, any time, any place." By that standard these essays are wonderfully efficient little machines, reproducing in the reader Dobyns's deep understanding of and affection for the work of such peers as Rilke, Mandelstam, and Chekhov. The one indispensable essay, though, is the 79-page "Notes on Free Verse," an encyclopedic treatise notable for its historical sweep, erudition, and passion for the craft Dobyns himself practices so well. For literature collections.?David Kirby, Florida State Univ., Tallahassee
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

24 of 24 people found the following review helpful By Stephen H. Shaheen on January 3, 2000
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Stephen Dobyns has done a great service for thoughtful writers intent on honing their craft. This book is not a 'workshop' opportunity, nor is it a boring trudge through classic poems. Rather, in clear and insightful essays, Dobyns discusses the fundamental elements of poems (metaphor, pacing, tone), and the choices writers face (e.g., how does a poet decide between two similar words). There is also an interesting chapter on the evolution of free verse, as well as inspiring chapters on writers Dobyns admires for varied reasons: Rilke, Chekhov, Ritsos, and Mandelstam.
But Dobyns goes beyond an esoteric discussion for poets' eyes only. He explores larger issues and forces us to question how we define and use art. As a writer, actor, painter, and musician, I have benefitted greatly from reading this work. Let me end by quoting Dobyn's first paragraph in the chapter entitled "Pacing":
"A work of art is something that exists independent of all people, all value systems, that does not need, is not needed and has as much importance as a rock floating through outer space. Contrariwise, it is also a conduit passing between artist and audience, the half-open door standing between them. Yet it is more than a means of communication, it is also what is being communicated. It contains the essence, the very spirit of its creator, but if the audience cannot find its way within it, then the work of art will fail. A work of art is about the artist, about the audience and about nothing at all at the same time. It is irrational, mysterious and attempts to touch the emotions, the senses, the intellect, even the spirit of its audience. It does this not only with what it communicates, its apparent subject, but also with its form. A poem, for instance, communicates as much through the manner of its telling as through what is told."
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13 of 15 people found the following review helpful By I X Key on March 20, 2003
Format: Paperback
These essays are amazing -- the most brilliant, thorough, painstaking essays on poetry I have ever read. Dobyns, who long ago got his MFA from Iowa University, the finest institution for graduate poetry, & now teaches in Boston, knows poetry through & through & wants his readers to as well. In this book he teaches about so many aspects of the highest poetry, how much the words have inside them, & does it in a way perfect for the reader (or for me anyway) to learn from so well. He considers poems throughout in order to illustrate concepts he's writing about, & the book closes with chapters on 3 20th century masters: Ritsos, Rilke, & Mandelstam, & the penultimate chapter about the intricate bestness of a poem of Dobyns's own. I wouldn't consider this a how-to book so much as a keep-this-in-mind-while-you-invent book. Essential essays.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on November 11, 1997
Format: Hardcover
Steven Dobyns, a great Poet in his own right, author of eight volumes of Poetry including Velocities, is as prolific and accessible as any before him. In Best Words we are given a rare and plain view of the inner workings of modern poetry. Dobyns calls upon his years of study, writting and research to give us 13 wonderfully crafted essays, many separately published, that touch on the general (Notes On Free Verse) mechanics (The Function of Tone) and critical (Rilke's Growth as a Poet). If ever there was one book about the Art of Poetry that is a "Good Read" this is it.
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11 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Christopher Carstens on October 30, 1997
Format: Hardcover
I write poetry, and read essays on poetry for pleasure. Very few such tomes actually make one a better poet. Dobyns' book is an exception -- the remarkable force of his analysis draws the reader into a deeper comprehension of the structure and meaning of one's own work -- as well as that of all those other poets in the world. What a gift to receive from a book!
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7 of 9 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on January 17, 2001
Format: Paperback
I underlined perfusely and may read this right over again. If you need direction for your work this offers much to think about, from the practical to the philosophical. A good risk of you're buckling down to create. Can't say enough--if it's not your bag, you're either overeducated or under-interested in the subject matter.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By "hirofantv" on May 7, 2002
Format: Paperback
This book will surely not serve to make its reader a master poet, but it is a very interesting read for anyone who cares about the high art of poetry. Anyone who's fairly new to poetry & wants to know more sbout it, about some ways to think of the words, really ought to read this book. Beyond that, it's enjoyable anyway to read someoned else's thoughts on poetry, poems, & the act of writing.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Grace Vaughan on February 2, 2010
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
A deeply informative and wonderful book of essays from one of the most unique voices in American poetry, exploring the evolution of poetry and poetic voice. With shared wisdom from the giants of many ages - Baudelaire, Rilke, Larkin, et al -- these essays go deep into the art of writing, reading and thinking about poetry; i.e. writing with greater freedom, reading with greater confidence. A priceless resource for anyone writing - or aspiring to write - poetry ... Or just wanting to read poetry with greater knowledge. Wonder, weep, laugh, learn.
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By George Lewinnek on September 27, 2014
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I bought this and the sequel, Next word, better word, to improve my prose writing. It has helped. I have started both and finished neither, but I already have a better understanding of metaphor, pacing and rhythm, and tone. I enjoy Dobyns most when he gives a poem and then discusses it, usually with praise, so that I have become a better reader of poetry. He also gives examples of poems that he does not like. That makes me a better editor of my own writing. I enjoy him least when he discusses the special insights of poet-artists that are denied the rest of us (ouch!). At times his thoughts soar, but he is always grounded enough to insist that a poet communicate with the reader. I can not review this book for the aspiring poet or the poetry lover, but I can review it for folks like me whose prose could improve: I think that you will like it.
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