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In this new edition of Best Words, Best Order, Stephen Dobyns further explains the mystery of the poet's work. Through essays on memory and metaphor, pacing, and the intricacies of voice and tone, and thoughtful appreciations of Chekhov, Ritsos, Mandelstam, and Rilke, Dobyns guides readers and writers through poetry's mysterious twilight communiques. For this new second ed In this new edition of Best Words, Best Order, Stephen Dobyns further explains the mystery of the poet's work. Through essays on memory and metaphor, pacing, and the intricacies of voice and tone, and thoughtful appreciations of Chekhov, Ritsos, Mandelstam, and Rilke, Dobyns guides readers and writers through poetry's mysterious twilight communiques. For this new second edition, Dobyns has added two new essays, one dealing with the idea of "beauty" in poetry and another dealing with the almost mystical way poets connect seemingly disparate elements in a single work.


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In this new edition of Best Words, Best Order, Stephen Dobyns further explains the mystery of the poet's work. Through essays on memory and metaphor, pacing, and the intricacies of voice and tone, and thoughtful appreciations of Chekhov, Ritsos, Mandelstam, and Rilke, Dobyns guides readers and writers through poetry's mysterious twilight communiques. For this new second ed In this new edition of Best Words, Best Order, Stephen Dobyns further explains the mystery of the poet's work. Through essays on memory and metaphor, pacing, and the intricacies of voice and tone, and thoughtful appreciations of Chekhov, Ritsos, Mandelstam, and Rilke, Dobyns guides readers and writers through poetry's mysterious twilight communiques. For this new second edition, Dobyns has added two new essays, one dealing with the idea of "beauty" in poetry and another dealing with the almost mystical way poets connect seemingly disparate elements in a single work.

30 review for Best Words, Best Order: Essays on Poetry

  1. 5 out of 5

    Alarie

    To be honest, I found large sections of this book of no interest to me. Dobyns wrote many long essays on individual authors that I skipped. However, when he wrote in general terms about the purpose of poetry, what makes a good poem, the magic of metaphors, the importance of pacing, tone, engaging a reader, etc., he was singing my song.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Patrick Mcgee

    This collection of essays on the form of poetry is probably the best I have ever had the privilege of reading. Dobyns straight forward approach help enlighten both the aspiring poet as well as the more tenured artists out there. I found out informative, entertaining, and inspiring all in the same breath. The only drawback, in my opinion, was the three of the essays towards the end of the book regarding three specific poets / writers that Dobyns analyzes. Although I found the fourth of these on R This collection of essays on the form of poetry is probably the best I have ever had the privilege of reading. Dobyns straight forward approach help enlighten both the aspiring poet as well as the more tenured artists out there. I found out informative, entertaining, and inspiring all in the same breath. The only drawback, in my opinion, was the three of the essays towards the end of the book regarding three specific poets / writers that Dobyns analyzes. Although I found the fourth of these on Rilke to be absorbing, the remaining ones were not as good in my opinion. For anyone interested in learning more about the art of poetry, pick this one up. Highly recommended.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Robert

    I found this book less compelling and intellectually concise than Czeslaw Milosz's The Witness of Poetry (Milosz), but also less interfering between reader and poem (and thereby slightly condescending) than Edward Hirsch's How To Read A Poem (Hirsch). Mostly, this is an excellent read into the evolution of free verse -- something every contemporary poet should understand; this is our heritage. I found this book less compelling and intellectually concise than Czeslaw Milosz's The Witness of Poetry (Milosz), but also less interfering between reader and poem (and thereby slightly condescending) than Edward Hirsch's How To Read A Poem (Hirsch). Mostly, this is an excellent read into the evolution of free verse -- something every contemporary poet should understand; this is our heritage.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Nancy

    This was a good reference book to start my journeywith poetry. I enjoyed ch 1-8 the most. Ch 9-13 studied individual poets (Rilke, Mandelstam, Ritsos...) ..interesting, but not what I was looking for. I skimmed these chapters. The last 3 chapters dealt with Time, Participant in a poem and Beauty. Conclusion: Prepare yourself for a long read. Sift the information to your own needs. Lesson learned: Don't read a poem and go after it as if it were an item on a final exam. Poem: it is the experience...not This was a good reference book to start my journeywith poetry. I enjoyed ch 1-8 the most. Ch 9-13 studied individual poets (Rilke, Mandelstam, Ritsos...) ..interesting, but not what I was looking for. I skimmed these chapters. The last 3 chapters dealt with Time, Participant in a poem and Beauty. Conclusion: Prepare yourself for a long read. Sift the information to your own needs. Lesson learned: Don't read a poem and go after it as if it were an item on a final exam. Poem: it is the experience...not the final exam that counts.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Jillian

    This collection of essays was an illuminating exploration of poetry from a number of different angles: the broad purposes and philosophy of poetry, the historical development of several poetic styles and schools, biographies of several individual poets, line-by-line analyses of poems that broke down the poetic and linguistic elements to a more granular level than I've seen, and finally the backstory behind one of the author's own works. While it took me a while to work my way through the book, a This collection of essays was an illuminating exploration of poetry from a number of different angles: the broad purposes and philosophy of poetry, the historical development of several poetic styles and schools, biographies of several individual poets, line-by-line analyses of poems that broke down the poetic and linguistic elements to a more granular level than I've seen, and finally the backstory behind one of the author's own works. While it took me a while to work my way through the book, and some chapters were farther afield from what I was looking for initially, it was all rather fascinating and felt like being back in grad school (in a good way). 4.5 stars and I'm glad I already picked up his Next Word, Better Word.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Bob

    I've read this book two or three times. Since I don't remember a lot of it, I'm probably due to read it again. One thing I remember is that there is some coverage of Rilke's work ethic. Rilke learned from working with Rodin that one must go to work as a craftsman. Yet Rilke was not above needing inspiration as the raw material on which to work. I've probably assimiliated much of this book and no longer know know which of my opinions are based on it. My recollection is that it had a lot of insight I've read this book two or three times. Since I don't remember a lot of it, I'm probably due to read it again. One thing I remember is that there is some coverage of Rilke's work ethic. Rilke learned from working with Rodin that one must go to work as a craftsman. Yet Rilke was not above needing inspiration as the raw material on which to work. I've probably assimiliated much of this book and no longer know know which of my opinions are based on it. My recollection is that it had a lot of insight with which I mostly agreed.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Bridget

    Very useful for serious writing.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Dion Oreilly

    I can't remember how many times high school English students students asked me, "Did the writer mean to put all these motifs and symbols and stuff into the writing?" Implying teachers just make it up to be annoying—as if it's somehow less miraculous if it's not purposeful. In any case this book answers the question with a definitive YES! It's difficult to distill the many ideas of this text, but the following is a little of what I gleaned: It begins with our intuition and our concerns (theme). I I can't remember how many times high school English students students asked me, "Did the writer mean to put all these motifs and symbols and stuff into the writing?" Implying teachers just make it up to be annoying—as if it's somehow less miraculous if it's not purposeful. In any case this book answers the question with a definitive YES! It's difficult to distill the many ideas of this text, but the following is a little of what I gleaned: It begins with our intuition and our concerns (theme). If we're lucky and work hard, we take that raw material and share feeling or insight with our readers. The meaning and the matter are as connected as the leaf to the tree; thus, it is the process of reading and writing the poem that creates the emotional alchemy. And this process transports a tiny piece of truth out of another world into this one. How is that done? This book defines many aspects of the craft and magic (symbols and stuff) of poetry: truth, beauty, rhythm, dream, harmony, suspense, and surprise. And in the end what matters in writing is that we—writer and reader— are changed. We must enter the poem blind, without the confidence we know what truth we will find. Dobyns explores these ideas and more in this collection of essays based on his craft lectures given to MFA classes. He also devotes chapters to the lives and works of several of his favorite writers—Rilke, Chekhov, Baudelaire, and (my favorite) Ritsos. If you have the soul of an artist or if you want to know how writers think and work, I recommend.

  9. 5 out of 5

    John Fredrickson

    The essays in this book vary quite a bit, but they all center on different aspects of poetic devices: the pacing of a poem, the use of metaphor, tone, the stance of a poet with respect to the reader, and numerous others. Several specific poets are considered, particularly Yeats, Mandelstam, Rilke, and Ritsos. One essay on Free Verse is quite long, but most of the others can be read in a single sitting. This book does a great job at exploring some of the devices that poets use in their endeavors, The essays in this book vary quite a bit, but they all center on different aspects of poetic devices: the pacing of a poem, the use of metaphor, tone, the stance of a poet with respect to the reader, and numerous others. Several specific poets are considered, particularly Yeats, Mandelstam, Rilke, and Ritsos. One essay on Free Verse is quite long, but most of the others can be read in a single sitting. This book does a great job at exploring some of the devices that poets use in their endeavors, and how the choices that they make impact the poem itself and the reader. One of the things that I really enjoyed about the book is its inclusion of an essay focusing on Ritsos. Ritsos has long been a poet that I have enjoyed, but who is generally ignored in books on poets and poetry - this has always struck me as curious. In the essay, Dobyns aligns Ritsos somewhat with Swedenborg and Yeats using 'sympathetic magic' as the uniting factor, and this feels right to me. I now have a better sense of what it is in Ritsos's poems that appeals to me. One of the choices that I make when assigning a 5-star rating to a book is whether it is likely that the book is one that would benefit from a re-read, and this one is clearly in this category.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Paul Wilner

    This is just wonderful. Those who (like me) first came to Dobyn's work through the Saratoga/Charlie Bradshaw mysteries, then his lovely poetry, are in for further revelations. He is deeply learned, humane, with analyses that are sometimes dense (or at least requiring concentration), but also down to earth. Beautifully done and well worth the time and effort it makes to follow his lively mind and the important points he makes about the practice, and purposes, of poetry. The chapter on Chekhov, an This is just wonderful. Those who (like me) first came to Dobyn's work through the Saratoga/Charlie Bradshaw mysteries, then his lovely poetry, are in for further revelations. He is deeply learned, humane, with analyses that are sometimes dense (or at least requiring concentration), but also down to earth. Beautifully done and well worth the time and effort it makes to follow his lively mind and the important points he makes about the practice, and purposes, of poetry. The chapter on Chekhov, an artist he clearly identifies with, is exceptionally beautiful - and accessible.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Jeffrey (Akiva) Savett

    The chapters on Free Verse, Metaphor, Pacing, and Tone were all quite interesting, the first being the longest and best. I took notes, underlined and highlighted frequently. I believe there are some wonderful insights here which will make me a better poet if I'm able to make them second nature. Like many of the other reviewers here, I found the chapters on individual poets rather boring and in skipped two of them. The one on Osip Mandelstam was personally interesting to me because I like Mandelst The chapters on Free Verse, Metaphor, Pacing, and Tone were all quite interesting, the first being the longest and best. I took notes, underlined and highlighted frequently. I believe there are some wonderful insights here which will make me a better poet if I'm able to make them second nature. Like many of the other reviewers here, I found the chapters on individual poets rather boring and in skipped two of them. The one on Osip Mandelstam was personally interesting to me because I like Mandelstam's poetry, but that doesn't mean that chapter would be any less grueling for another reader. The ending essay regarding Beauty started off in a promising way, but it quickly devolved into an academic debate between Dobyns and Elaine Scarry. Scarry is actually a professor I'm familiar with as I deeply enjoyed her book The Body In Pain, but the discussion Dobyns is having regarding her views on beauty is deeply uninteresting, especially when reading a book supposedly devoted to the craft of poetry.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Sigrun Hodne

    I’m reading Stephen Dobyns book of essays on poetry; Best Words, Best Order (1996/2003). I enjoy it a lot, but there is this view in the first essay called Deception, that I find rather difficult to understand. In a discussion on the difference between the novel and poetry, Dobyns say: So in my poetry I believe I deal with the existing world and in my novels with alternative worlds. If I feel badly about the world, dislike its people, feel pessimistic about its future, then I can’t write poetry. I’m reading Stephen Dobyns book of essays on poetry; Best Words, Best Order (1996/2003). I enjoy it a lot, but there is this view in the first essay called Deception, that I find rather difficult to understand. In a discussion on the difference between the novel and poetry, Dobyns say: So in my poetry I believe I deal with the existing world and in my novels with alternative worlds. If I feel badly about the world, dislike its people, feel pessimistic about its future, then I can’t write poetry. Fiction I can write any time, because it is not connected to my immediate feelings about the world. I don’t need to love human beings in order to write it My question is: Why can’t he write poems when he feels bad about the world? Isn’t sadness, sorrow and loss amongst the strongest sources of poetry? http://omstreifer.wordpress.com/2013/...

  13. 4 out of 5

    Brian

    I started with the chapters on Free-Verse and the bit on Cemetery Nights. Neither shows this author at his best, yet slowly but surely I warmed up to him by the end. He has a very good, healthy view of poetry as that purveyor of the transcendent through the immediate. I loved many chapters, such as Pacing, Tone, the Voice, and especially Manipulation of Time. Always solid when talking about beauty. Not very dense and a lot of intriguing possibilities. Not something that inspires me to write poems I started with the chapters on Free-Verse and the bit on Cemetery Nights. Neither shows this author at his best, yet slowly but surely I warmed up to him by the end. He has a very good, healthy view of poetry as that purveyor of the transcendent through the immediate. I loved many chapters, such as Pacing, Tone, the Voice, and especially Manipulation of Time. Always solid when talking about beauty. Not very dense and a lot of intriguing possibilities. Not something that inspires me to write poems as much as to read them. The biographies: Rilke was a poor sap, Mandelstam was cool, Chekhov was honest, and I forget Ritsos.

  14. 4 out of 5

    David Miller

    Interesting and useful essays on writing and poetry, aesthetics and craft. Sometimes the relentless standards of a professional poet, with the rigorous analysis of what makes a poem succeed or fail, can be a little exasperating when you're just an enthusiastic scribbler trying to have a good time. But if we have something like poetry in the world, as full of possibility as it is, we must eventually follow it into the labyrinth of abstraction. i only hope it made me a better poet, or at least mad Interesting and useful essays on writing and poetry, aesthetics and craft. Sometimes the relentless standards of a professional poet, with the rigorous analysis of what makes a poem succeed or fail, can be a little exasperating when you're just an enthusiastic scribbler trying to have a good time. But if we have something like poetry in the world, as full of possibility as it is, we must eventually follow it into the labyrinth of abstraction. i only hope it made me a better poet, or at least made me think more like one.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Rebekah

    I've always wondered what separates good poetry from bad, especially when it comes to free verse. This book answers that question through a series of dense but insightful essays that describe intellectual and emotional engagement with metaphor, diction and rhythm, as well as providing a history of free verse development. I particularly enjoyed the two essays that described how and why a specific poem was written and revised. Another great read. Thanks, Deja. I've always wondered what separates good poetry from bad, especially when it comes to free verse. This book answers that question through a series of dense but insightful essays that describe intellectual and emotional engagement with metaphor, diction and rhythm, as well as providing a history of free verse development. I particularly enjoyed the two essays that described how and why a specific poem was written and revised. Another great read. Thanks, Deja.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Margaret1358 Joyce

    This is a poet's book. And poetry in the author's opinion, is a reason to love being alive. The book goes from details on the craft to synopses of the styles of a chosen few, to an example of one of the author's own. A superb read!Thank you, Stephen Dobyns! This is a poet's book. And poetry in the author's opinion, is a reason to love being alive. The book goes from details on the craft to synopses of the styles of a chosen few, to an example of one of the author's own. A superb read!Thank you, Stephen Dobyns!

  17. 5 out of 5

    Gerry LaFemina

    There are times in these essays where Dobyns loses sight of his goals, allowing for the biography of writers to take too much precedence, but his thorough discussion and explanations of prosody, of beauty, and of the history of poetry is both erudite and well presented.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Ruth

    Best words, best order. I think I got more from the title than from the book. I wanted to like this. I generally like Dobyn's poetry. But I found this tough slogging. R Best words, best order. I think I got more from the title than from the book. I wanted to like this. I generally like Dobyn's poetry. But I found this tough slogging. R

  19. 4 out of 5

    Jill Sumstad

    Dobyns has an unusual way of looking at poetry that is at once historical, formulaic, and metaphysical.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Hoss

    Started it this past summer...I haven't gotten very far...but it's there. It's good so far... Started it this past summer...I haven't gotten very far...but it's there. It's good so far...

  21. 4 out of 5

    Kitty

    see my comments posted under Roberts

  22. 4 out of 5

    Shawn Aldridge

    This is a great collection of essays on poetry.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Donald

    An amazing collection of essays on poetry.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Ryan

  25. 5 out of 5

    Marcus

  26. 4 out of 5

    Samantha McGuire

  27. 5 out of 5

    Bryan Castille

  28. 4 out of 5

    Cindy

  29. 4 out of 5

    Robin Richardson

  30. 5 out of 5

    Jim McGarrah

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