- Paperback: 398 pages
- Publisher: Palgrave Macmillan; 2nd edition (May 30, 2003)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1403961476
- ISBN-13: 978-1403961471
- Product Dimensions: 5.6 x 1 x 8.5 inches
- Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 19 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #159,607 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Best Words, Best Order: Essays on Poetry, 2nd Edition 2nd Edition
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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." --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
"...painstaking, admirable and enjoyable."--The Times Literary Supplement
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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."