Monday, September 1, 2008


In my editorial work I am learning the importance of endings. I can be reading along, enjoying the
language and the cadence of a poem very much, eager to follow where the poet leads. And then I come to the end and pfft. Nothing to hold onto. No surprise. No door to re-enter the poem with a new understanding. And I realize that many of my poems are this way: I begin with a vague idea of where things are going, but never quite get there. I guess this becomes a revision issue. I must learn to write beyond the vagueness to find that surprising connection or the germ of the seed for which I've been digging. Otherwise, both reader and poet are left floating in a fog. It might be a beautiful fog, but a fog nonetheless.

Here is one of my favorite endings by Simon Armitage in his poem "The Shout":

We went out
into the school yard together, me and the boy
whose name and face

I don't remember. We were testing the range
of the human voice:
he had to shout for all he was worth,

I had to raise an arm
from across the divide to signal back
that the sound had carried.

He called from over the park-- I lifted an arm.
Out of bounds,
he yelled from the end of the road,

from the foot of the hill,
from beyond the look-out post of Fretwell's Farm--
I lifted an arm.

He left town, went on to be twenty years dead
with a gunshot hole
in the roof of his mouth, in Western Australia.

Boy with the name and face I don't remember,
you can stop shouting now, I can still hear you.

The poem begins in narrative with a relatively simple childhood recollection. The reader follows; suspense builds-- when will the voice no longer be heard? And the ending comes as a total shock: the voice is still being heard. As Kathleen Driskell said in her lecture this past May, the mark of a good poem is that one is compelled to re-enter it. After reading this last line, who can resist returning to the title and the first lines to find out what a second reading will yield with this new knowledge? I cannot. In fact, I often find myself thinking of those last lines.

Now to return to my own work, with an eye toward taking that step from vagueness to statement, from plain narrative to metaphorical significance.

And here's a little bonus video so you can get a taste of Simon Armitage's voice. He's reading a sonnet.

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