Closure: Literary Theory

Closure
Writing or Re-Writing 7

Yesterday’s post, Lagartija (Bistro 13, Flash Fiction) raises the question of closure. For me, closure sets a double problem: when to close and how to close. These two concepts, when and how, may seem to be the same; but in fact, they are not. Let us take a closer look at Lagartija and use it as an example.

Lagartija
(Bistro 13)

There are striations in my heart, so deep, a lizard could lie there, unseen, and wait for tomorrow’s sun. Timeless: this worm at the apple’s core waiting for its world to end. Seculae seculorum: the centuries rushing headlong. Matins: wide-eyed this owl hooting in the face of day. Somewhere, I remember a table spread for two. Breakfast: an open door, a window that overlooks a balcony and a garden.
“Where are you going, dear?”
Something bright has fled the world. The sun unfurls shadows. The blood whirls stars around the body.
“It has gone,” she said. “The magic. I no longer tremble at your touch.”
The silver birch wades at dawn’s bright edge. Somewhere: tight lips, a blaze of anger, a challenge spat in the wind’s taut face. High-pitched the rabbit’s grief as it struggles in its silver snare. The somnambulant moon tiptoes in a trance.
If only I could kick away this death’s head, this sow’s bladder, this full moon drifting high in a cloudless sky.

Lagartija falls neatly into two parts. These are divided by the spaced paragraph division. The first part ends with the line: “If only I could kick away this death’s head, this sow’s bladder, this full moon drifting high in a cloudless sky.” In terms of HOW to end, this is a great ending. The piece could end right there: powerful image, sense of closure, strong line and sentiment. In terms of WHEN to end, however, I wanted to say more. So I added another paragraph.

Who knows when the skeleton will take to the limelight, peel off her gloves, doff her hat, lay down her white cane, and use me as fuel for a different kind of fire. Grief lurks in the bracelet’s silver snare of aging hair. I kick my legs in the chorus line and my day fades into shadowy shapes that unfurl leathery wings.
Pebbles catch in my throat and the word-river once flowing smooth backs up to spill leaf-freckled foam over the tiniest barriers of branch and weed. I try to speak but a gypsy has stolen my tongue and sewn my lips together.
Leaves outside my window grow rusty with rain. A sharp-shinned hawk no bigger than the blue jay he stalks drives like a whirlwind at the feeder. Winter touches with his jack-frost fingers and Old Eight Hoots waits in the tree and calls my name.
Bright stars crackle the sky. Frost crisps leaves. A mist weaves webs scarce-seen. All around, as I walk to my lonely home, the cold ground creaks its wordless tongue-tied whispers.

Night shapes abound.

Let me begin by stating that I am not sure about the second paragraph. I wanted to emphasize the sense of loss of love, the sense of being dislocated in time and space: but is this overkill? I am in two minds about this: one half of me says OVERKILL; the other half says: LIVE WITH IT. Now, just looking for a phrase and finding those words: LIVE WITH IT makes me feel that both the WHEN and the HOW of the ending fall at the end of that first paragraph. Much as I like the second part, it must go. Perhaps it can stand on its own?

The problem is exacerbated because Lagartija is actually a prose excerpt of a poem from Though Lovers be Lost. I wanted to see if some of the magic of the poetry could be retained in the prose version. I think it can, provided the HOW and WHEN of closure ends early. To extend the prose passage is to weaken it. To extend the prose passage is also to betray the poem. Here it is: Building on Sand (from Though Lovers Be Lost, 2000)

Building on Sand

1
Everywhere the afternoon
gropes steadily to night.
Some people have lit fires;
others read by candlelight.

Geese litter the river bank,
drifts of snow their whiteness,
stained with freshet mud;
or is it the black
of midnight’s swift advance?

They walk on thin ice
at civilization’s edge.
Around them,
the universe’s clock
ticks slowly down.

2
Who forced that scream
through the needle’s eye?

Gathering night,
the moon on the sea bed
magnified by water.

Inverted,
the big dipper,
hanging its question
from the sky’s dark eye lid.

Ghosts of departed
constellations
walk the night.

Pale stars scythed
by moonlight
bob phosphorescent
flowers on the flood.

3
The flesh that bonds;
the bones that walk;
the shoulders and waist
on which I hang
my clothes.

Now they stand alone
beneath the moon
and listen at the water’s edge
to the whispering trees.

They have caught the words
of snowflakes
strung at midnight
between the stars.

Moonlight is a liquor
running raw within them.

4
There are striations
in my heart, so deep,
a lizard could lie there,
unseen, and wait
for tomorrow’s sun.

A knot of
sorrow in daylight’s throat;
the heart a great stone
cast in placid water,
each ripple
knitted to its mate.

Timeless,
the worm at the apple’s core
waiting for its world to end.

Seculae seculorum:
the centuries
rushing headlong.

5
Matins:
wide-eyed
this owl hooting
in the face of day.

Somewhere,
I remember
a table spread for two.
Breakfast.
An open door.
“Where are you going, dear?”

Something bright has fled the world.
The sun unfurls shadows.
The blood whirls stars
around the body.

“It has gone.” she said. “The magic.
I no longer tremble at your touch.”

6
You can drown now
in this liquid
silence.

Or you can rage against this slow snow
whitening the dark space
where yesterday
you placed your friend.

The silver birch wades
at dawn’s bright edge.

Somewhere,
sunshine will break
a delphinium
into blossom.

7
Tight lips.
A blaze of anger.
A challenge spat
in the wind’s face.

High-pitched
the rabbit’s grief
in its silver snare.
The midnight moon
deep in a trance.

If only I could kick away
this death’s head,
this sow’s bladder.

Full moon
drifting
high in a cloudless sky.

8
After heavy rain
the house shrinks.
Its mandibles close.

A crocodile peace
descends from the jaws of heaven.

I no longer fit my skin.
Iguana spots itch.
Walls encircle me,
hemming me in.

The I Ching sloughs my name:
each lottery ticket,
a bullet.

None with my number.

9
Late last night I thought
I had grasped the mystery:
but when I awoke
I clasped only shadows and sand.

Building on Sand now asks another set of questions, for it offers multiple possible points of closure, key lines where the poem might end, but doesn’t. Is closure possible? Or are we always faced with continuations and further possibilities? In Building on Sand, each possible point of closure opens another set of perspectives. Without being infinite, the cycle is continuous. In Lagartija, on the other hand, the closure poses a different question, for although the prose poem seems to come to an end with the line “If only I could kick away this death’s head, this sow’s bladder, this full moon drifting high in a cloudless sky”, the ending is in fact rather more open than closed. As a result, the reader is left wondering how and if the narrator has managed to cope with the circumstances.

Writing or Re-Writing? Sometimes, as writers and re-writers, we must make difficult decisions. Often we must reject and eliminate some of our favorite words and images. Hard to do? Definitely: but we all face that choice. Hopefully, the above study will help clarify not only the difficult choices we must make when trying to close out our creative pieces but also the some of the key differences between the HOW and the WHEN of closure. It also raises the question of the extent to which a piece of good creativity resonates and whether it can ever be completely closed.

6 thoughts on “Closure: Literary Theory

  1. Closure as with so many things is a subjective being. The writer is painting a picture that the reader interprets and embellishes. Is there closure for the reader even if there has been for the author? Writing and reading are such dynamic structures.
    I think its interesting how the poetic version hangs together seamlessly and whilst closure could have occurred at other points the overall structure and picture seems right, Whilst in the prose version the two paragraphs do not meld and work better as stand alone pieces.
    Thank you I really enjoyed your thought provoking piece.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for your excellent analysis and commentary. The two prose pieces were originally written separately and then joined. I have now separated them again for exactly the reasons you mentioned. The poem is one of my favorites and will appear again later. Thank you for visiting.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. The poetry is moving and lovely. Perhaps more often than for the general reader, the ‘writer-reader’ is interested in the how or when of closure. I find this essay fascinating, Roger. While in the process of reading this work i do not worry at all about closure, because the vigour of the next part hijacks me, and i go with it–nothing else to be done. These could be a series of poems. They affect me immediately in their own way and i let their collective influence find itself in me over time.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I tend to think in terms of new beginnings rather than the act of closure, for each closure is really the start of a new adventure. In addition, I don’t think we really do close things and lock them away: they tend to stay with us, both the good and the bad. For me, closure is more how we deal with them and how we mold them into new shapes and new beginnings. This is not at all what the professional literary theorists say.

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  3. Roger, I am in awe, not an unusual experience when reading your poetry. I’m trying to find a time of day when such power is appropriate to ingest. I have preferred times of day for many favourite experiences – no peppermints before noon, apples after 3, martini at 5 etc. I don’t know where to place Reading Roger Moore, as you are – like peppermints – a strong flavour that will render everything else tasteless. Keep on!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for your support and encouragement. It is amazing how much a few kind words help when one is struggling with the creative daemon. But you know only too about the plateaus and valleys of our creative experiences. That said, thank you for being here.

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