Sunday, October 18, 2009

"The Best Words in the Best Order"

One of my favorite events in New York City is the annual gathering of the Academy of American Poets. It is happening this weekend and this is the third year in a row that we will be attending most of its sessions. I know, I know, some of you reading this are probably thinking what could be more dull. But for us the chance to hear some very fine poets read their work and to learn from them as they comment in small panels on the poetry that has left the greatest impact on them, provides an unmatched opportunity to dwell on Coleridge's definition of poetry - "the best words in the best order."

I fear I am no poet, though I usually succumb to the occasional impulse to write it. What I love is the challenge of searching for just the right word to finish a line or begin a stanza. Prose, too, calls for a similar skill, but the brevity and intensity of poetry magnifies the need and the challenge of finding that perfect word. And while I am defeated by this challenge virtually every time, the practice of wracking one's brain for the best possible word may be one of the things contributing to my ongoing vitality. It is, at least, a great way to stave off Alzheimer's, and, at best, an irreplaceable way to enrich one's own life. And every time I attend these sessions of the Academy of American Poets I feel that surge of energy once again that I associate with excellent poetry and that quest, usually unrealized but nobly attempted, to arrange the best possible words in the best possible order.


  1. My ears attuned
    To poems I've swooned
    Yet never've heard
    The perfect word.

    Not one to mope
    I'll not lose hope.
    An endless quest...
    Which word is best?

  2. I search, I lurch
    Yet I besmirch
    My stanza every time

    I try. I cry,
    Yet words defy
    My quest for perfect rhyme.

    Ah, Third, the word
    Is one I've heard
    I'm very sure I know it.

    Oy vey! OK
    What can I say?
    I knew that I would blow it!