Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “Best Words, Best Order: Essays on Poetry” as Want to Read:
Best Words, Best Order: Essays on Poetry
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

Best Words, Best Order: Essays on Poetry

4.04  ·  Rating details ·  353 ratings  ·  20 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)
More Details... edit details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about Best Words, Best Order, please sign up.

Be the first to ask a question about Best Words, Best Order

Community Reviews

Showing 1-30
4.04  · 
Rating details
 ·  353 ratings  ·  20 reviews

Sort order
Jan 02, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: poetry
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
Oct 30, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Sep 26, 2007 rated it really liked it
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.
Mar 23, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2018
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
Apr 10, 2008 rated it it was amazing
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
Jul 01, 2012 rated it really liked it
Very useful for serious writing.
Dion Oreilly
Nov 01, 2016 rated it it was amazing
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 ...more
Mar 07, 2015 rated it really liked it
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
Sigrun Hodne
Nov 18, 2012 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.
May 01, 2014 rated it really liked it
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
David Miller
Jun 23, 2016 rated it really liked it
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 ...more
Jul 12, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2013
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!
Gerry LaFemina
Jan 25, 2015 rated it really liked it
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.
Dec 05, 2007 rated it liked it
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
Dec 08, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Dobyns has an unusual way of looking at poetry that is at once historical, formulaic, and metaphysical.
Mar 20, 2007 is currently reading it
Started it this past summer...I haven't gotten very far...but it's there. It's good so far...
Sep 29, 2007 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: all writers
see my comments posted under Roberts
Shawn Aldridge
Dec 03, 2007 rated it it was amazing
This is a great collection of essays on poetry.
Jun 26, 2013 rated it it was amazing
An amazing collection of essays on poetry.
rated it really liked it
Jan 19, 2008
rated it it was amazing
Feb 06, 2014
Samantha McGuire
rated it really liked it
Dec 19, 2014
Bryan Castille
rated it it was amazing
Jul 18, 2015
rated it liked it
May 25, 2014
Robin Richardson
rated it it was amazing
Jan 20, 2016
Jim McGarrah
rated it it was amazing
Feb 23, 2009
Andrea Janov
rated it liked it
Sep 03, 2017
rated it it was amazing
Apr 03, 2007
rated it really liked it
May 22, 2012
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 next »
There are no discussion topics on this book yet. Be the first to start one »
  • Real Sofistikashun: Essays on Poetry and Craft
  • The Life of Poetry
  • The Practice of Poetry: Writing Exercises From Poets Who Teach
  • The Triggering Town: Lectures and Essays on Poetry and Writing
  • The Art of the Poetic Line
  • In the Palm of Your Hand: A Poet's Portable Workshop
  • The Art of Recklessness: Poetry as Assertive Force and Contradiction
  • Western Wind: An Introduction to Poetry
  • Poetry and the Age
  • Poetic Meter and Poetic Form
  • Nine Gates: Entering the Mind of Poetry
  • The Necessary Angel: Essays on Reality and the Imagination
  • The Art of Syntax: Rhythm of Thought, Rhythm of Song
  • Ordinary Genius: A Guide for the Poet Within
  • Writing the Australian Crawl
  • Hinge & Sign: Poems, 1968-1993
  • Great American Prose Poems: From Poe to the Present
  • The Poetry Home Repair Manual: Practical Advice for Beginning Poets
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
“One writes a poem when one is so taken up by an emotional concept that one is unable to remain silent.” 6 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.” 6 likes
More quotes…