When we write and tell stories, we know to start at the beginning, develop the middle (conflict, character), then come to some conclusion, whether it be resolution or irresolution. Some stories might require a lengthy beginning and middle and a terse ending, or vice versa. The point is that narratives start, occur, and end, whereas poetry does not yield to these restrictions. Yes, poems must “begin” somewhere and “end” eventually or else the reader will walk away from it and the writer will die before the thing is finished, but the conclusion of a poem is never as well-defined or as latent as that of a story. In his essay “The End of the Poem,” which we read in the beginning of the semester, Agamben contemplates that poems might never end, they may resonate outward, infinitely, eliminating the risk of falling into prose. I’ve been finding this semester that my biggest difficulty in writing poetry is not beginning but ending. I rarely know when to keep writing, when to insert a new stanza, or when to just end the thing. My issue is less about how the poem ends, which seems to be Agamben’s primary concern, but rather when the poem ends, and why.
My most recent exercise poem is a whopping one sentence taking place over five medium-length lines. After I finished writing I pondered what would come next–how could I elaborate or progress or uncover this poem? After some time I read and re-read the poem, deciding that, for now, it was done the way it was. There was nothing more I could think of adding that would improve it. The poem didn’t need anything. Now, I may be wrong (I’m sure I am), and if I decide to workshop this poem I’m sure I’ll realize how much more I could do with it, or how inadequate it actually is. But as of now I have ended the poem where I think it needs to end, though I’m still not entirely sure why. Why do we end our poems where we do?
Do you guys also find yourselves struggling with dropping the pen (halting your tapping fingers)? Do you think shorter poems are a result of laziness (probably, in my case) or that some poems just don’t need as much space? And what of longer poems, like those of T.S. Eliot? Why extend a poem and why truncate it?