Saturday, May 2, 2015

Prompt #221 – Dazzling Dismounts



If this prompt feels familiar, it probably is. It was originally posted on March 28th, three days before the annual National Poetry Month post. I decided to remove the post on April 1st, post the annual Poetry Month "inspirations," and re-post this prompt in the event that you might like to spend more time with it after the Poetry Month reading and writing.
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Have you ever read a poem that fell flat at the end? A poem, perhaps, that failed to come to closure in a memorable way? In my workshop groups, I always encourage participants to “dismount” with a punch. That is, to conclude their poems with something powerful, stunning, remarkable. This isn’t about simply “summing up” or coming up with a clever ending. This is about not letting a poem slip through a crack in your keyboard but, rather, creating a poem that looks for and finds a substantial way out—what I call a “dazzling dismount.”

Take a look at these last lines by famous poets. What is it about them that makes them memorable? What ineffable quality do they possess? 

This is the way the world ends Not with a bang but a whimper.
—T.S. Eliot, "The Hollow Men"

The silver apples of the moon, The golden apples of the sun.
—W B Yeats, “The Song of Wandering Aengus” 

I only know that summer sang in me A little while, that in me sings no more.
—Edna St Vincent Millay, “Sonnet” 

Better by far you should forget and smile Than that you should remember and be sad.
—Christina Rossetti, “Remember” 

And my soul from out that shadow that lies floating on the floor Shall be lifted ­– nevermore!
—Edgar Allan Poe, “The Raven” 

If this be error and upon me proved, I never writ, nor no man ever loved.
—William Shakespeare, “Sonnet 116” 

I took the one less travelled by, And that has made all the difference.
—Robert Frost, “The Road Not Taken” 

What immortal hand or eye, Dare frame thy fearful symmetry?
—William Blake, “The Tyger” 

Was it a vision, or a waking dream? Fled is that music – do I wake or sleep?
—John Keats, “Ode to a Nightingale” 

And then my heart with pleasure fills And dances with the daffodils.
—William Wordsworth, “I Wandered Lonely As a Cloud” 

I am the master of my fate: I am the captain of my soul.
—William Ernest Henley, “Invictus” 

For he has forgotten self, forgotten bird And on the riverbank forgotten the river’s name.
—Seamus Heaney, “St. Kevin and the Blackbird” 

Then you begin, slowly, to read the whole story.
—Mary Oliver, “Breakage”

This week, the challenge is to write a poem starting with the last line. I know this sounds contrived, and perhaps it is, but remember that this is an exercise to be used in working toward the goal of writing a good poem. Several poets I know agree that there are times when a last line “appears” before any other part of the poem, and it is from those lines that their poems develop.

Guidelines:

First, “play” with some last-line ideas—just think up what might be great last lines. Write them down.

Then, think up some first lines. These first two steps will give your poem its “bookends.”

Next ... think, think, think ... and write the body of the poem.

Finally, read and revise. Make changes. Toss lines and phrases, even the first and last lines if you come up with better ideas.

Tips (dos and don’ts):

Don’t: End with a moral.

Don’t: Close with an “I’m going to tell you what this poem is about” ending.

Don’t: Go with an expected outcome (especially in a narrative poem). Shake up your readers’ expectations.

Don’t: Use up all the air in your poem on the last couple of lines—leave the reader room to breathe.

Don’t: Undercut your poem’s “authority” by ending with trivia or a “so what” line that doesn’t make your readers gasp.

Don’t: Conclude with a sentimental or emotional statement (both sentiment and emotion may be heartfelt but, when they’re blatantly stated, they can detract from the power of your poem).

Don’t: Close the door on your poem; leave it slightly ajar.

Do: Link the end of the poem to the beginning but not overtly—and don’t over-write.

Do: Write beyond the last line, then go back and find the last line hidden in what you’ve written.

Do: Use more one-syllable words than multi-syllable words in your last couple of lines (think in terms of strong verbs and no superfluous language).

Do: Try (minimal) repetition from another part of the poem—sometimes this can work very well.

Do: Resist the urge to apologize (or to even suggest apology).

Do: Leave your reader something to reflect upon.

Do: Point toward something broader than the body of the poem.

Do: Create a new resonance for your readers, a lit spark that doesn’t go out when the poem is “over.”

Extension:

Go back to some of your already-written poems and check out their dismounts. Are there some that might be better? If so, try working on them!


12 comments:

  1. I remember this one just before Poetry Month and am glad you re-posted it. It's hard to believe all of April has come and gone. I didn't comment each day, but I did enjoy the poems and did quite a bot of writing (now waiting to be edited and refined). I also enjoyed the sharing and other readers' poems. It's good to be back on the regular schedule, though!

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    1. Thanks for your comment, Jamie! I'm glad you enjoyed Poetry Month and this prompt.

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  2. Back to normal! Thanks for a great Poetry Month and so many wonderful poems.

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    1. Thanks, Rich! It's always good to hear from you.

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  3. Hi, Adele! I've been following your blog for quite some time, but I believe this is the first of your prompts to which I have responded. For me, the easiest way to craft a resounding last line was to first incorporate it into body of a terzanelle. The link above is the result. Thanks for a wonderful prompt!

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    1. Hi, Andra,

      Thanks so much for your comment and for following the blog. I hope you'll respond again! (I didn't find a link with your comment—please feel free to post it again if you wish.)

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  4. Amita Jayaraman (Mumbai)May 4, 2015 at 7:54 AM

    I'm very glad you repeated this one, Adele. There's so much to be learned from it! Thank you!

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    1. Thank you, Amita! It's always a pleasure to hear from you.

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  5. I love your blog! There's always something interesting and fun to spend time with. I LOVE the video of the bulldog reading Dylan Thomas in the sidebar—that's a recent addition, isn't it?

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    1. Thanks so much, Sandy! Your feedback means a lot to me, and I'm so glad you enjoyed the bulldog video. I thought it was really funny and, yes, I added it about a week ago -- I try to update the sidebar material from time to time.

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  6. A great lesson post, Adele. I'm too much inclined to say what I have to say and then just stop, so I shall give more consideration in future to last lines. Thank you.

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    1. Thanks so much for your comment, vivinfrance! I'm so glad the blog post "struck a chord" for you and hope it will help with your closing lines! Thanks again for your comment.

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