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Next Word, Better Word: The Craft of Writing Poetry

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This accessible writer's guide provides a helpful framework for creating poetry and navigates contemporary concerns and practices. Stephen Dobyns, author of the classic book on the beauty of poetry, Best Words, Best Order, moves into new terrain in this remarkable book. Bringing years of experience to bear on issues such as subject matter, the mechanics of poetry, and the This accessible writer's guide provides a helpful framework for creating poetry and navigates contemporary concerns and practices. Stephen Dobyns, author of the classic book on the beauty of poetry, Best Words, Best Order, moves into new terrain in this remarkable book. Bringing years of experience to bear on issues such as subject matter, the mechanics of poetry, and the revision process, Dobyns explores the complex relationship between writers and their work. From Philip Larkin to Pablo Neruda to William Butler Yeats, every chapter reveals useful lessons in these renowned poets' work. Both enlightening and encouraging, Next Word, Better Word demystifies a subtle art form and shows writers how to overcome obstacles in the creative process.


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This accessible writer's guide provides a helpful framework for creating poetry and navigates contemporary concerns and practices. Stephen Dobyns, author of the classic book on the beauty of poetry, Best Words, Best Order, moves into new terrain in this remarkable book. Bringing years of experience to bear on issues such as subject matter, the mechanics of poetry, and the This accessible writer's guide provides a helpful framework for creating poetry and navigates contemporary concerns and practices. Stephen Dobyns, author of the classic book on the beauty of poetry, Best Words, Best Order, moves into new terrain in this remarkable book. Bringing years of experience to bear on issues such as subject matter, the mechanics of poetry, and the revision process, Dobyns explores the complex relationship between writers and their work. From Philip Larkin to Pablo Neruda to William Butler Yeats, every chapter reveals useful lessons in these renowned poets' work. Both enlightening and encouraging, Next Word, Better Word demystifies a subtle art form and shows writers how to overcome obstacles in the creative process.

30 review for Next Word, Better Word: The Craft of Writing Poetry

  1. 4 out of 5

    Ellie

    This one took me a while but was totally worth it. For an amateur, it's fairly difficult (at least it was for me) but full of fascinating information. I found the chapter on revision particularly helpful. The last chapter seemed to almost belong to a different book: an almost historical analysis of metaphor that was not immediately applicable to writing but interesting in its own right. As I struggle to master the terminology and structure of poetry, each book teaches me how to read the next and This one took me a while but was totally worth it. For an amateur, it's fairly difficult (at least it was for me) but full of fascinating information. I found the chapter on revision particularly helpful. The last chapter seemed to almost belong to a different book: an almost historical analysis of metaphor that was not immediately applicable to writing but interesting in its own right. As I struggle to master the terminology and structure of poetry, each book teaches me how to read the next and I feel slightly less illiterate. This book was a big step for me. I don't know if I can give an objective review (such as, I found the book slightly pretentious in parts but impressively brilliant in others) since I'm still very limited in my ability to discuss poetry in a meaningful way. I enjoyed Dobyns' writing - his prose is as effective as his poetry; I very much liked The Church of Dead Girls and so who better to learn about poetry from?

  2. 5 out of 5

    Ken

    This collection of essays on poetry is engaging enough to hover between three stars and four (rounded up). For me, the best chapters for writing hints came in Ch. 5 ("Line Breaks"), Ch. 7 ("A Sense of Space"), Ch. 8 ("Closure") and mostly Ch. 9 ("Revision"). Sometimes Dobyns gets caught up in his analysis of poems and even prose. As an example of the latter, a Henry James paragraph sends him on a six-page riff about syllabic counts, meter, rhyme, caesuras, etc. For the poems, the mysteries of tro This collection of essays on poetry is engaging enough to hover between three stars and four (rounded up). For me, the best chapters for writing hints came in Ch. 5 ("Line Breaks"), Ch. 7 ("A Sense of Space"), Ch. 8 ("Closure") and mostly Ch. 9 ("Revision"). Sometimes Dobyns gets caught up in his analysis of poems and even prose. As an example of the latter, a Henry James paragraph sends him on a six-page riff about syllabic counts, meter, rhyme, caesuras, etc. For the poems, the mysteries of trochees, anapests, spondees, and dactyls are not mysterious at all to Dobyns. This and various other arcane matters on meter are his bread and butter and, if you read between the lines, are what separates the pros (poets) from the rookies (poets). If you have no sense for accented and unaccented syllables, for slant rhymes, for hard and soft, masculine and feminine, you're pretty much screwed (and there you were, taking refuge under the Free Verse Tree). The book could have easily ended after the "Revision" chapter. The remaining four chapters were merely Dobyns impressing Dobyns, yadda yadda, with little in the way of instruction for writers.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Richard

    I can't figure out just yet if I've become much more well read since I read Best Words Best Order and so his references seem less convincing to me, or if Dobyns' treatise in the last essay of this book, about (among other things, including the history of language) how poetry has fallen into a kind of residual position, with poets themselves to blame, is indicative of the essence of his fall of late in my opinion. His more recent poetry collections have ranged from rather plain to unreadable, and I can't figure out just yet if I've become much more well read since I read Best Words Best Order and so his references seem less convincing to me, or if Dobyns' treatise in the last essay of this book, about (among other things, including the history of language) how poetry has fallen into a kind of residual position, with poets themselves to blame, is indicative of the essence of his fall of late in my opinion. His more recent poetry collections have ranged from rather plain to unreadable, and in them there seems to be an uncomfortably earnest attempt to make poetry 'matter,' and in all the wrong ways. Whether they're paper-thin political observations in Winter's Journey, or , as in Mystery So Long, ars poetica that sound like superficial rehashing of much more interesting stuff we've both read. In this unfortunate follow-up to Best Words Best Order, Dobyns offers wonderful insights about poetry and its relationship to the brain and its inner workings, but his analyses fall well short at times, diving into deep abysses of literary terms but lacking followthrough, making many of his 'insights' feel like paraphrases of others. More so, there's a push here to be an American Master, a level of salesmanship that may have been in his work from the beginning, but before, the quality of his work made such salesmanship a minor element and non-intrusive. Of late, quality doesn't seem to be eclipsing his ambition.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Nina

    I found this book to be a mix of fascinating, helpful chapters, and ones that had my eyes and brain glazed. I approached reading this book as a writer. My favorite chapters are Chapter 3, Line breaks, Chapter 8, Closure, and Chapter 9, Revision. If you are interested in the philosophical background to writing techniques, several of the other chapters should satisfy you. Dobyns is a master at using example poems and taking them apart word by word, line by line, to demonstrate salient points. I wo I found this book to be a mix of fascinating, helpful chapters, and ones that had my eyes and brain glazed. I approached reading this book as a writer. My favorite chapters are Chapter 3, Line breaks, Chapter 8, Closure, and Chapter 9, Revision. If you are interested in the philosophical background to writing techniques, several of the other chapters should satisfy you. Dobyns is a master at using example poems and taking them apart word by word, line by line, to demonstrate salient points. I would have preferred that the selection of poems be more heavily weighted toward contemporary work.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Emily Michael

    There aren't enough stars for this book! This is one of the best texts on the craft of poetry I've ever read. Dobyns touches on all the essential points – sound, grammar, evolution of language, the poet's role, the poem's role. It's a fabulous text, written in an accessible style, and it is far from simplistic or gimmicky. I highly recommend this book for all poets and lovers of poetry. There aren't enough stars for this book! This is one of the best texts on the craft of poetry I've ever read. Dobyns touches on all the essential points – sound, grammar, evolution of language, the poet's role, the poem's role. It's a fabulous text, written in an accessible style, and it is far from simplistic or gimmicky. I highly recommend this book for all poets and lovers of poetry.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Gerry LaFemina

    Dobyns has a brilliant mind for talking about poems, and this book is a wonderful read. He falls apart, though, when he trips over his various attempts at discussing a four-tiered system of accents, which makes sense but is overly convoluted.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Rhomboid Goatcabin

    A terribly conceited book, in that the author feigns authority and insight, but misrepresents and overstates facts and approaches. Speaking from a distinctly professorial pulpit, Dobyns likes to quote outdated authorities from fields he has no idea about, getting every single fact wrong in the process (his lengthy excursions on Indo-European linguistics, among many others, being ridiculously counterfactual and baffling in their swagger; Dobyns also defines 'counterpoint' in music erroneously by A terribly conceited book, in that the author feigns authority and insight, but misrepresents and overstates facts and approaches. Speaking from a distinctly professorial pulpit, Dobyns likes to quote outdated authorities from fields he has no idea about, getting every single fact wrong in the process (his lengthy excursions on Indo-European linguistics, among many others, being ridiculously counterfactual and baffling in their swagger; Dobyns also defines 'counterpoint' in music erroneously by describing its antonym, harmony). The author presents his very particular views on poems as fact, donnishly enumerating analytical points (one can practically hear the scratch of unhappy students' pens in college notebooks). Though many of these points are of course valid, their presentation is vain and conceited. There are many enjoyable anecdotal passages, but, more often than not, Dobyns is simply showing off. His misrepresentations of events and quoting of befuddlingly obscure authorities makes this a painful and unrewarding read. In its distinctly AP English tone, this book is bound to dissuade people from reading and enjoying poetry.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Jeffrey (Akiva) Savett

    I’ve been reading book after book about poetic craft. My hope is to try and learn at least a LITTLE from each book, take notes, and then create my own little “MFA” kit so to speak. Dobyns’s first book on craft, the classic Best Words, Best Order was FAR better than this. Dobyns knows so much. There’s no doubt about his expertise. I just found his examples tedious; far too few were discussed for too long, and he stuck mostly to older canonical works as exemplars. The problem with this is NOT simp I’ve been reading book after book about poetic craft. My hope is to try and learn at least a LITTLE from each book, take notes, and then create my own little “MFA” kit so to speak. Dobyns’s first book on craft, the classic Best Words, Best Order was FAR better than this. Dobyns knows so much. There’s no doubt about his expertise. I just found his examples tedious; far too few were discussed for too long, and he stuck mostly to older canonical works as exemplars. The problem with this is NOT simply that the piece is familiar; rather, Dobyns ignores huge swaths of modern poetry which ignore his claims about sound and sense, closure, line breaks, and meter. Because I tend to write free verse or in nonce, Dobyns’s examples were not all that helpful. The last several chapters were more philosophical...considering the poet’s place in the culture etc. This may be compelling for some. But I came for nuts and bolts workshop talk.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Kitty

    I'm sure I finished this book before the end of March 2012! I love Dobyns' clear prose. An excellent guide in 13 chapters to understand craft: titles: approaching subject matter; joining form and content; reconciling paradox; aspects of the syllable; line breaks; context and causality; a sense of space; closure; revision; moral inquiry; bearing witness; counterpoint, the nature of metaphor. In the introduction he alludes to choosing short and accessible poems, with the accent on the requirement of I'm sure I finished this book before the end of March 2012! I love Dobyns' clear prose. An excellent guide in 13 chapters to understand craft: titles: approaching subject matter; joining form and content; reconciling paradox; aspects of the syllable; line breaks; context and causality; a sense of space; closure; revision; moral inquiry; bearing witness; counterpoint, the nature of metaphor. In the introduction he alludes to choosing short and accessible poems, with the accent on the requirement of exemplars and a manageable book length. I love the story of Goethe, who said that Shakespeare "gives us golden apples in silver dishes." To quote Dobyns, "By careful study, we may acquire the silver dishes while discovering we have 'only potatoes to put in them"... I definitely want to revisit all the checks I put in the margins!

  10. 5 out of 5

    Ginny

    There were several extremely useful and directly applicable chapters. OIthers, however, were difficult and took more time and thought. The last chapter was almost painful to read...very steeped in ancient history and mostly abstract. I am very glad I read it. I would have much preferred to not have had the last chapter.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Jenny Thompson

    Although there was certainly some helpful and thought-provoking content in this book, overall I thought it suffered from Dobyns' desire to write essays about whatever interested him rather than what might be useful to a reader. Although there was certainly some helpful and thought-provoking content in this book, overall I thought it suffered from Dobyns' desire to write essays about whatever interested him rather than what might be useful to a reader.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Bryan Wood

    An excellent poetry book. Very well written.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Caroline

    Bores me! But I really liked Best Words, Best Order, so I was excited about this, then disappointed. It just seems to fall into a weird No Man's Zone of readership-- folks who know about poetry already know this stuff. So, I kept thinking maybe this would be good as an intro text? but no, it wouldn't. Bores me! But I really liked Best Words, Best Order, so I was excited about this, then disappointed. It just seems to fall into a weird No Man's Zone of readership-- folks who know about poetry already know this stuff. So, I kept thinking maybe this would be good as an intro text? but no, it wouldn't.

  14. 4 out of 5

    JoAnn Jordan

    This is a very technical book on the craft of poetry. It studies verse from various periods of history to illustrate the elements of poetry. I did not find it inspiring, but more educational. I would recommend this book to those studying poetry in an academic setting.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Patrick Mcgee

    A solid book on writing poetry. Not as good as Dobyn's first one but great nonetheless. All aspiring poets should check this one out. Recommended. A solid book on writing poetry. Not as good as Dobyn's first one but great nonetheless. All aspiring poets should check this one out. Recommended.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Todd

    Part of this book = Really good stuff about writing Part of this book = Really pretentious literary snobbery It's a good book. If it were half as long, it would be a great book. Part of this book = Really good stuff about writing Part of this book = Really pretentious literary snobbery It's a good book. If it were half as long, it would be a great book.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Kaecey McCormick

  18. 4 out of 5

    Robert C.

  19. 5 out of 5

    James Ritter

  20. 4 out of 5

    Brittney

  21. 4 out of 5

    Brandon

    Great information that was both new to me and some review. Interesting discussions on poetry and the history and philosophy behind this ancient tradition. Overall I felt I got a lot out of this read, and I can already see the impact in how I read and write poetry.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Adam

  23. 4 out of 5

    Joel

  24. 4 out of 5

    Lisajean

  25. 5 out of 5

    Norm Jenson

  26. 4 out of 5

    John

  27. 5 out of 5

    Sara

  28. 4 out of 5

    Paul Scot August

  29. 4 out of 5

    Malinda

  30. 5 out of 5

    Emily Vieweg

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