Wednesday, June 9, 2010

poetry endings and closings

My last blog was openings, so let me discuss,
Closings and endings – in poetry ‘closures’ and ‘endings’ are not quite the same thing. Most poems have closure; the poem wraps up the problem discussed, resolves the conflicts, it closes the rhythm, the sound, the diction. Some poems end; the poem seems to just stop, with no wrap up. The poem itself will dictate which you should use.

The nineteenth century poets ended their poems with a flourish, a moral instruction. Modern poets stay away from those. Also, stay away from summarizing the poem. A poem is not an essay, requiring a conclusion, which restates what the poem already said. It’s a poem; say what you want to say, and then shut up. As I said in the last blog, Robert Frost said, poems should “end with wisdom.” He did not mean a moral, a lesson. He meant a new way for the reader to see the world. The last line, last sentence should be the strongest in the poem. It may not be the line the reader remembers, but it will be the emotion the reader takes away from the poem. Without that emotional connection there is no poem.

When writing in forms, the forms dictate when to close. Example, you’ve reached the tenth syllable of the fourteenth line of an Italianate sonnet. The trick then is to resolve the problem at the same time. In free verse endings and closings are up to the poem and the poet.

Here are a few ideas on how to finish a poem. End with a rhyming couplet; even if you didn’t have rhyme in the poem. Look at Shakespeare’s soliloquies. He ended those with rhyming couplets. End with a surprise, a twist. Not easy but a very effective closing, which leaves the reader with an ‘aha.’ But don’t surprise just because you can. Have a reason and foreshadow the surprise earlier in the poem. Not much, but it allows the reader to go back and say ‘oh, yes, I see that.’ A physical closing works for a poem, a shut door, the ding of a microwave, flower petals falling, etc. In the same idea, end with a strong image, just like you started with a strong image. If a strong image in the opening gave the reader a place to stand, a strong image at the end, gives the reader something to take away from the poem.

Sometimes, if you’re struggling to end a poem, look back into the poem, the ending is likely there; you’ve added an off-ramp to the poem.

A good closing/ending should leave an afterglow. It needs to ‘ring’ with the reader. It needs to stem the rhythmic flow. It should not be abrupt, unless that’s what the poem wants. A good closing is more than a matter of stopping, it should close the music, rhythm, syntax, resolve any meaning, etc. Rather than fake an ending it might be better to leave the poem open ended. Ezra Pound in his first Canto left the end in mid-air. The poem finishes So that:

Something else to think about when ending a poem. The final word is important. If you end on a masculine (stressed) syllable, you end ‘up.’ The reader goes away feeling energized, maybe ready to read the poem again. If you end on a feminine (nonstressed) syllable, the reader goes out on a ‘down.’ It’s up to the poem which one you use. Neither is more wrong or right, except in the context of that one poem.

In the world of poems, every word must be exactly the right word. Then the last word must be even more than the exactly right word. It must have the right stress, the right meaning, right sound, etc. It’s the word the reader takes home

1 comment:

RHFay said...

I've ended with with a rhyming couplet once or twice. When asked why I did so, I say 'cause Shakespeare did it! It can actually be a very effective way to close a poem.