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Best Words, Best Order: Essays on Poetry

4.04 of 5 stars 4.04  ·  rating details  ·  310 ratings  ·  19 reviews
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 ...more
Paperback, 416 pages
Published May 2nd 2003 by Palgrave Macmillan (first published April 15th 1996)
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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.
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.
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 ...more
Jul 30, 2008 Bob rated it 5 of 5 stars
Shelves: owned
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
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
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
Very useful for serious writing.
Sigrun Hodne
Nov 18, 2012 Sigrun Hodne marked it as to-read
Shelves: on-writing, 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.
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.
A very good collection of essays on poetry and especially insightful on the mysteries of metaphor. Dobyns admirably doesn't try to explain the central mysteries of the many poems he quotes, rather uses the examples more to illustrate points about technique, form and the like.

Although the book is about poetry, there is a lot to learn in these pages about the art of any sort of writing - for example, the notion that once you start writing for an audience or editor you are effectually compromising
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.
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!
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.

Jill Sumstad
Dobyns has an unusual way of looking at poetry that is at once historical, formulaic, and metaphysical.
Mar 22, 2007 Hoss is currently reading it
Started it this past summer...I haven't gotten very far...but it's there. It's good so far...
A few good poems but not amazing as a collection.
An amazing collection of essays on poetry.
This is a great collection of essays on poetry.
Sep 29, 2007 Kitty rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: all writers
see my comments posted under Roberts
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  • Real Sofistikashun: Essays on Poetry and Craft
  • The Triggering Town: Lectures and Essays on Poetry and Writing
  • The Life of Poetry
  • The Practice of Poetry: Writing Exercises From Poets Who Teach
  • The Art of the Poetic Line
  • Poetry and the Age
  • The Necessary Angel: Essays on Reality and the Imagination
  • In the Palm of Your Hand: The Poet's Portable Workshop
  • The Poet's Companion: A Guide to the Pleasures of Writing Poetry
  • Nine Gates: Entering the Mind of Poetry
  • Poetic Meter and Poetic Form
  • Western Wind: An Introduction to Poetry
  • The Art of Recklessness: Poetry as Assertive Force and Contradiction
  • What is Found There: Notebooks on Poetry and Politics
  • The Art of Description: World into Word
  • Hinge & Sign: Poems, 1968-1993
  • The Art of Syntax: Rhythm of Thought, Rhythm of Song
  • Proofs and Theories
Dobyns was raised in New Jersey, Michigan, Virginia, and Pennsylvania. He was educated at Shimer College, graduated from Wayne State University, and received an MFA from the Iowa Writers' Workshop at the University of Iowa in 1967. He has worked as a reporter for the Detroit News.

He has taught at various academic institutions, including Sarah Lawrence College, the Warren Wilson College MFA Program
More about Stephen Dobyns...

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“One writes a poem when one is so taken up by an emotional concept that one is unable to remain silent.” 5 likes
“Hesitancy is the surest destroyer of talent. One cannot be timorous and reticent, one must be original and loud. New metaphors, new rhythms, new expressions of emotion can only spring from unhindered gall. Nothing should interfere with that intuition--not the fear of appearing stupid, nor of offending somebody, nor jeopardizing publication, nor being trivial. The intuition must be as unhindered as a karate chop.” 4 likes
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