I had the good fortune of having dinner with Andrea Witzke Slot several weeks ago a month before she was the featured reader at my favorite poetry venue, Molly Malone’s. We discussed her first book To Find A New Beauty, which I happily purchased and have been happily reading since. It is an intimate book, full of the sea and the natural world. As an example, let’s read “Terra Incognita” (also here at Verse Daily).
I have scaled unknown ridges and cliffs,
only to abseil downward, dropping inside
the holes of caves where stalagmites pierced
the floors of darkened rooms. I have found
mines deep within the crevices of sleeping
mountains, waded in underground springs
of manatees, minerals, sand. I have upturned
rocks, searched the roots of trees in acres
of eclipsed valleys, hiked along shores,
lakes, becks, running streams.
Once I stopped for days at a single hillside,
made a bed inside, woke to the sound
of falcons and the distant morning dove,
the sun glinting off pines that reached
upwards with outstretched hands.
But do not tell me that love makes us into fools.
I know the shadows that pause within the folds
of these hills, still miles from where I stand.
I’ve heard the secrets farmers keep, irrigation
and rotating crops, when to move in, when to start a fire.
I’ve seen the red skies. I know the warning of dawn.
I know too that frozen waters can flow,
can once again flow, how fields will blaze
anew, if touched by the sun.
Blame me, but I will open the curtains.
After all, I have lived here for a million years
and am long past finding my way home.
I like the turn that comes in the 6th stanza. But let’s talk about endings. In the book, the page ends at the end of stanza 7, with the line “I’ve seen the red skies. I know the warning of dawn.” When I was first reading the book, I actually stopped there, needing to take a break, thinking the poem was done and being very satisfied with this wrap up from a speaker so knowledgeable about the world yet acknowledging the inherent danger in it.
When I returned to the book to continue reading, I was surprised to find the last two stanzas on the next page. The real ending gives a completely different feeling, one of faith in stanza 8 and then almost of testimony in stanza 9 – the speaker saying, “Yes, I will continue to look upon the secrets of the earth although I may not ever settle in one place.”
It made me contemplate the endings of my own poems. I wonder what would happen if I chopped off the last several lines – would the focus of the speaker change? Would the meaning be significantly altered? Would they provide new avenues to explore?
If you want to write:
1. Find an old poem of at least six stanzas. Try removing at least one stanza (or at least 4 lines, if it is in one block.) Explore what the new ending says – if you add anything, add it in the beginning or middle of the piece.
2. Use Andrea’s line “Blame me, but I will open the curtains” as a jumping off point for a new poem.