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What Goes On: Selected and New Poems, 1995-2009

4.46  ·  Rating details ·  202 ratings  ·  26 reviews
"Good poems are triumphs over the unlikely," Stephen Dunn says. "They make us pay attention in new ways." In his second new and selected collection, Dunn subtly enlarges our sense of possibility. His new poems, suffused with affection and rue for our world, occasionally address the metaphysical, as in these lines

from Talk to GodEase into your misgivingsAsk him if in his
Hardcover, 192 pages
Published January 5th 2009 by W. W. Norton Company
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Aug 17, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: poetry
I love it when a poet can tell a story. He had me from the first poem, "Tucson," from the opening lines:
A man was dancing with the wrong woman
in the wrong bar, the wrong part of town.

to the middle lines:
I'd forgotten
how fragile the face is, how fists too
are just so many small bones.

to the close:
My friend said nothing's wrong, stay put,
it's a good fighting bar, you won't get hurt
unless you need to get hurt.

Another poem has a dead-on analysis is the Olympic skaters Tonya and Nancy:
One woman has
Beverly J.
Jul 31, 2013 rated it did not like it
Shelves: gave-up-on
I got to page 132 of 195 but I just couldn't play along anymore. "....a succubus bitten moon followed me home last night...." no, I don't think so. Goodbye
Dec 02, 2016 rated it really liked it
I thought each poem was to the point and without frills or unnecessary embellishments. The stories told through poetry were vivid and memorable. I was impressed with how the author could shoot me with an emotion in only a few words. The words for each poem seemed carefully chosen. I enjoyed reading this book as I'm sure I'll come back to it again.
Brian Wasserman
May 18, 2017 rated it it was ok
Too self referential, allusions here and there
no real great breakthroughs, metaphors or revelations, someone hand Mr. Dunn a shovel
Tracy Marks
Dec 13, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: poetry-writing
Stephen Dunn is one of our best contemporary poets. His poems are accessible not obscure, and well-crafted.
Patrick Mcgee
Aug 11, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Stephen Dunn is quite the poet. I enjoyed his more narrative style, which is right up my alley and writing style when tackling poetry. I enjoyed reading this collection that spanned nearly fifteen years of his work. He is not the kind of poet to play around too much with the form or structure of his poems, but you can see an unmistakable growth in his poetry even later in his career. The one exception concerning the structure is with one particular book of poems, Riffs and Reciprocities, where ...more
Sep 01, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book came my way, and I read it, realizing I had not read a complete book of Dunn's poems, though I'd enjoyed individual poems in journals and anthologies over the years. This, as a "selected and new," was a great way to watch the arc of his life and art and get a sense of his obsessions and changes over time.

While I generally prefer lyric poems, and there are plenty of those here, it was fun to take the little trip in prose poems in Riffs & Reciprocities, showing that poems can be
John Dalton
May 24, 2011 rated it it was amazing
This book of selected poems means more to me than any other. I've read and reread every poem in this book numerous times and they keep revealing their wisdom. For the record I'm not a poet (though I do write fiction). I come to poetry not for insular words games or for the stringing together of vague but evocative phrases. That's relatively easy to do. What's hard is to craft a poem of genuine and original insight and to do it with real clarity. More than any other contemporary poet, Stephen ...more
Sep 23, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: poetry
Cheeky. The beauty builds over the years of his work, drawing away from his tendency toward the simplistic and jokey. I did, naturally, love all of the dogs who trotted in and out of the poems. And he is a calm atheist, a readable atheist. I liked his work overall, but Im not sure its the sort of the thing that Id be inclined to revisit.

Favorite poems:
Ars Poetica
The Living
John & Mary
The Reverse Side
The Unsaid
Jan 01, 2012 rated it it was amazing
I asked for this collection of poems for Christmas after I read "The Imagined" in The New Yorker a while back. A recurring theme is definitely passive dissatisfaction with one's life, but Dunn manages not to be depressing. He's great at describing that feeling of having your mind somewhere else other than where you are. It made me wonder why I don't spend more time reading poetry.
Joan Colby
Mar 25, 2010 rated it it was amazing
This collection from Dunn's latest five books plus some newer poems contains many wise and persuasive works by the Pulitzer Prize winning author. Dunn is never gaudy or image driven, much of his work is reflective, but always astutely observant.
Ann Woodlief
Jun 20, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: those who love poetry
There are poems here that really stick in my mind. Not too experimental, and there are backbones of stories and relationships in many. Perhaps it helps that he is my age, and the references to what's going on in the world are clear enough, as well as the hard won lessons of life and love.
Karen Douglass
Nov 25, 2013 rated it really liked it
Hmmm, I just commented on this book and don't see it. So, again, I like his poetry. It is understandable without being shallow or egotistical. He knows his craft and uses it to good effect. Many times I underlined a fresh turn of phrase or image.
Steven Hendrix
Mar 04, 2015 rated it it was amazing
This was my first time reading Dunn after hearing several friends praise him. I now understand why. He is instantly one of my favorites. Incredible depth of thought in describing the mundane. Plain language that moves and at times shocks with the simplistic beauty.
Cindy Cunningham
Apr 27, 2011 rated it it was amazing

As many followers know, Dunn is aging and is not in the best of health, but his work continues to astound and amaze.
Sep 15, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
"After the power to choose
A man wants the power to erase."

And now I don't feel so alone.
Jeffrey (Akiva) Savett
Oct 29, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Stephen Dunn may be my favorite poet and this so one of his nicest collections. Not as indispensable as his "new and selected" but slimmer and equally as awe filled.
Feb 24, 2011 rated it it was amazing
This was one of the 2010 RUSA Notable Books winners. For the complete list, go to
May 15, 2013 rated it really liked it
Stephen Dunn can write about average, commonplace things in new ways, in sensuous ways, in emotional ways, like no other poet I've read.
Oct 27, 2008 rated it really liked it
Shelves: poetry
Dunn is always good stuff. Beautiful to read, hear and thought-provoking.
Apr 03, 2009 rated it really liked it
Just about every poem I read by Stephen Dunn stalks my thoughts for a little while - most recently its "Sleeping with Others."
Jan 14, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: poetry, m
This is what modern American poetry is supposed to be.
May 20, 2009 rated it really liked it
humble and sweet, personal and some great imagery.

but i just keep coming back to so much humility about life and himself despite being a wordmaster.
May 20, 2009 rated it really liked it
Shelves: poetry
He also wrote a poem about Jack and Jill after their fall. Darn.
Dec 31, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Dunn is eloquent and elegant, without ever overdoing it. Though I'd read a number of the poems in previously published books it was nice to see them fit together with new pieces.
Jeffrey Bumiller
May 07, 2014 rated it it was amazing
This is now one of my absolute favorite books of poetry. This is a special book for me because it was an unexpected gift, and I got to hear the author speak and have him sign it.
R.G. Evans
rated it it was amazing
Apr 11, 2009
rated it it was amazing
Apr 20, 2013
Elena Richmond
rated it it was amazing
Jan 09, 2012
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Feb 03, 2016
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Stephen Dunn was born in New York City in 1939. He earned a B.A. in history and English from Hofstra University, attended the New School Writing Workshops, and finished his M.A. in creative writing at Syracuse University. Dunn has worked as a professional basketball player, an advertising copywriter, and an editor, as well as a professor of creative writing.

Dunn's books of poetry include

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