So the other day I wrote about my poetry midwife, Pamela, and how she has helped me, particularly in learning to pay close attention to the endings of my poems. I remember being at the Bread Loaf Writer’s Conference way back in August 1988, back when I was just a Writer Niblet, the poet Nancy Willard said, “Poetry is like bread. You can smell when it is done.” That may very well be true. But that is also assuming that you mixed the dough correctly and that all you need to do is add heat for a specified amount of time. Sometimes the ending comes out messed up because you messed up the start, so you can’t simply do a closure-style ending like a circle. Or you messed up the middle, which I think of as the Airplane Mistake, because if an airplane pilot is only one degree south of where she should be on her trip from Boston to Oregon, she may well end up in Los Angeles or worse.
I think of this in particular because I have been watching Agents of SHIELD lately and awaiting Joss Whedon’s Avengers: Age of Ultron. One thing I have noticed about the Marvel Cinematic Universe is how stylized a lot of the action is, in particular the dramatic landings. The person you see this most clearly with is Scarlet Johansen’s Black Widow, but you also sometimes see Agent May do this too.
The Urban Dictionary defines sticking the landing as meaning to “execute flawlessly from the beginning through the end. Follow through.” (“Stick”). The phrase originates from gymnastics. “When a gymnast lands a tumbling pass, vault, or dismount without moving his/her feet, it is called a stuck landing. The aim of every gymnast is to stick–if the gymnast moves his/her feet at all it is a deduction” (Van Deusen). More generally, it has come to mean “to finish an athletic, gymnastic, or other sports performance with an ideal pose or stance, especially after a jump or leap; (hence, also outside of sports) to do or finish well; to win” (Barrett).
I like the idea of an ending that is stuck solid to its foundation, unwavering. I also think that finishing well should not by necessity entail winning. Think about the 35,000 people running the Boston Marathon last month. Four won and 34,996 did not, but I imagine the goal for all but 100 was simply to finish well.
For a poem, this may mean you have an ending that quivers in the air in front of you shimmering with beauty. That is, often, the goal. But more often I think it is that you learned something from writing the poem and perhaps your readers have learned something from reading it.
Barrett, Grant. “Stick the Landing.” A Way With Words. 3 Feb. 2006. Web. 1 May 2015.
“Stick the Landing.” Urban Dictionary.com 21 Dec. 2006. Web. 1 May 2015.
Van Deusen, Amy. “Stuck Landing.” About.com. 2015. Web. 1 May 2015.
I am, of course, obsessed with every word in my stories. I still can’t help but notice, however, that readers will forgive a lot as long as you have a killer ending.
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