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Ending a Poem (Part I): Goodbye, Goodbye, Goodbye
This is the first of three squibs about the ends of poems, a subject I've always liked, and about which I'm working on an essay for the new Akron Series in Contemporary Poetics. As an editor for Pleiades, and for a few poetry book prizes, I read a lot of poems and can't help noticing patterns. The one I see most at the end of poems is — well, see for yourself. Here are samples of last lines from three different poems in a journal pulled randomly from my shelf (scroll down to learn the journal and the authors): Then so we now all drink it—drink it all. Soldier, drink my blood to rise and live. And to be old, and to be dirty, and to be dead— O, ladies, ladies. It melts because it melts, and melts fast because it once was hard, once the opposite of us. And here, since I'm gabbing on the Best American blog tonight, are seven ends-of-poems from the 2009 Best American Poetry (again, scroll down to learn the authors): A gun can be a gun, even for Freud. ... spiriting away my giddy soul, ears plugged and tied to the mast: I can't hear you, I can't hear you. the work of the lungs, so the lungs — they were singing of youth not knowing that they were singing for us Gray fox and gray fox. Red, red, red. Palm fronds clatter and lift in the porous light: clockwise; counter-clockwise. But what of the mice? Where have the mice gone? ... and two endings from a new book I like: The goblet mouth on the table speaks To your thirst, saying, “Longing, your longing, is infinite." The cupboard is bare. Me, me, me, I don’t care. Pick up any contemporary journal, or just about any book, and you'll notice a lot of repetition in the last two or three lines of poems whose principal mode is not repetition (i.e., I'm not talking about ghazals or villanelles). Am I picking on these poems? I am not. I also don't mean to imply that repetition at a poem's close is bad. Not that I'm not dubious of my own endings, now that I've noticed the pattern. Here are a couple of examples from my first book, Fabulae: I would like it. I would like it like heaven and would be lost. And you, reader, can you get out of the poem? By not finishing, by turning the page? With that last, I might have been asking whether readers crave repetition at the end of a poem. Is that one of the reasons we repeat — because of an unconsciously imagined expectation on the part of the reader? Is all this repetition a means of escape? A habit? Why do we do it so often? Just about everyone repeats. So we're used to seeing it, and we've got those kick-kicks in our minds — our poems are Rockettes, or maybe they're blowing kisses, or landing a...
Posted Jan 10, 2010 at
The Best American Poetry
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