A poet and mystery writer explores the art and craft of poetry. Stephen Dobyns explains the ability of poetry to communicate thoughts and feeling between the writer and the reader. Through essays on memory and metaphor, pacing, the intricacies of voice and tone, and appreciation of classic writers such as Chekhov and Rilke, Dobyns guides readers through poetry's mystery.
As its title implies, Stephen Dobyns's rigorous collection of essays about poetry celebrates Coleridge's dictum that poetry is the best words in the best order. Dobyns's probing examinations of the elements of poetry--metaphor, pacing, tone--and his study of the evolution of free verse are not for Sunday-sunset versifiers. They are strenuous, meaty, and wholly satisfying fare, intended for serious students of poetry. Dobyns, the author of eight volumes of poetry (and 17 novels), believes, like Baudelaire, that "each poem ... has an optimum number of words [and] an optimum number of pieces of information ... and to go over or under even by one word weakens the whole." Poetry, he says, belongs to the reader, not the writer, and as readers, "at the close of the poem, we must not only feel that our expectations have been met but that our lives have been increased, if only to a small degree." And, if that's not challenge enough for the writer, add to it "that the conclusion of a given piece must appear both inevitable and surprising." The final third of the book comprises chapters on four writers, each of whom represents to Dobyns an ideal in poetry: Rainer Maria Rilke, who Dobyns says worked harder than any other poet to develop and change his work; Osip Mandelstam, an exemplar of moral centeredness; Anton Chekhov, for his sense of personal freedom; and Yannis Ritsos, for his "sense of the mystery that surrounds us."