Thursday, April 19, 2012

Matt Henriksen gives good ending

Open to any page in Ordinary Sun by Matthew Henriksen (Black Ocean, 2011) and odds are, you'll find a good ending. There's an art to the ending, but how to describe it? I don't know who first said an ending (and I think this applies to poems as well as novels and short stories and, what? lives?) should feel both surprising and inevitable. Noelle Kocot's blurb on my book says, "Just when I think I want one of Gabbert's poems to go on forever, it screeches to a halt, but it is the perfect halt." Not trying to turn this into a humblebrag, but whether or not those halts are "perfect," they do seem to screech. I remember worrying, when I first put the manuscript together, that there were too many Big Deal Endings, too many screechings to halts.

Rauan Klassnik recently tweeted:
Another tweet from one Diana Salier:
Much as I'm collecting definitions of poetry, I'd love to hear more quotes about endings. Leave them in the comments, or offer your own profundities. In the meanwhile [sic], here are some of Matt Henriksen's lovely and striking endings, robbed from their context.

Various from "Copse" (short untitled poems in a series):

We lived in a small house
in the quiet North. 

What I cannot find in the morning is most myself.  

She stood
to say "aberration,"
to want the day back.

From "Regulations of the Assassins" (beautiful fucking poem):

In all that nonsense I became a gun.
It's raining now, goddamn.

From "Afterlife with Still Life":

Your skull is
perfecting the triangle, 
making nothing out of three.
Another makes immaculate the mind.

From "Ghost":

This was the beginning of the third year
no one called for anyone. So it is writ.

From "Gorge":

What I erase out here repeats forever.

And from "Insomnia" (which I've mentioned before): "Jesus, why must it / be so late, so bright, and so early?" What I wrote was, "The end is like the end of the novel-within-the-movie at the end of Stand By Me (Richard Dreyfuss typing, Doogie-Howser-style, 'Jesus, does anyone?'). This is the Beatles' song of poems, overplayed, over-perfect, over-quotable, and O."

I guess I like endings with rhythm and gravity.


  1. You remind me of some ending wisdom: Yeats' notion that an ending should be like the lid clicking on a perfectly made box; Richard Tillinghast's complaint that "a typical poem [by Jim Harrison] will not conclude; it will simply stop." I like to read well-wrought urns with inevitable-seeming endings, but I'm not into writing them. I like to write a poem--or should I say a poetry?--that's more like talk or journal entries. Often I simply stop. When you run out of things to say, you stop talking; when your coffee break is over or the page in your spiral notebook ends, you end your journal entry. And the ending is evitable. If that woman in the paisley shawl hadn't trudged in, the journal entry might've ended with someone at a nearby table saying into his cellphone "Hi, this is Arlyn Marquardt. I'm just confirming our appointment for Thursday." I mean, I'm like Ashbery in that I have an endless associative chain in my head. Now and then I saw out a few links and call it a poem. You want it to begin with a hooky link and end with a resonant link, but the first and last links--all the links, really--could have been different.

    1. I've always been resistant to the lid-clicking thing. Makes the poem seem so final and closed off.

  2. I like to suggest that if you set out to write an ending for your poem, the actual ending should be about two lines short of that.

    1. "End earlier" was one of the techniques in my recent "How to revise a poem" class. I also suggesting ending later, because sometimes people stop before they've said anything really interesting.