Eamon Grennan on Ending Poems

Eamon Grennan visited Pearl London's class in March of 1996, and did a seminar with her New School students that is transcribed in "Poetry in Person: 25 Years of Conversation with America’s Poets" (Knopf 2010). Born in Ireland, Grennan kept close ties to the country despite moving to New York for a long career as an English professor at Vassar College.

One of my favorite moments in this interview is Grennan's meditation on how he ends his poems. Grennan tells London: "I'd like to be more Ashbury or Jorie Graham, to kind of shrug or walk away with the thing kind of hanging, ringing strange cacophonic bells in the air, and yet at the same time I keep wanting this chapel bell of conclusion and closure at the end of the poem." About his own endings, he goes on to say, "the content is sometimes a shrug, but the music is a closing of the gate."

Grennan on Closure:

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"Shed," which Grennan read during the seminar, is a good illustration of this attitude towards endings. It's a quiet poem, focused around the image of a peach tree growing untended.

Grennan reading "Shed":

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Here, the ending is signaled by the full rhyme of "ringing" and "springing." Coming at the beginning of the line, the rhyme shoots harmony through the lines without snapping them shut the way an end rhyme would. The short last line draws out the final word, "darkness," letting the s's hiss to a close. Compare this to, say, the end of Graham's "The Surface:" "I say iridescent and I look down. / The leaves very still as they are carried." The fragmented sentences and the total lack of rhyme seem constructed to resist closure.