Jennie Baker abstract

Jennie Baker:
‘The Music of What Happens’: Deictic Shifting in the Closural Space
and Ending in Heaney’s Present

This paper describes a tendency in contemporary lyric poetry to shift in its closural space/moment, and specifically to dislocate or relocate the deictic centre of the poem in its final lines, which I refer to as Closural Shift Theory. The first half of this paper offers this theory for consideration alongside examples drawn mostly from the work of Seamus Heaney, and a brief typology or taxonomy (depending on one’s perspective) which may provide a useful way of framing a discussion about closural shifting as both a poetic effect in and of itself, and as a closural strategy.

The second half of this paper seeks to illustrate the potential value of such a discussion in terms of poetic practice, author study/scholarship, and pedagogy, by using the examples from Heaney’s work to demonstrate a pattern of preferences in terms of his closural shifting. Heaney employs particular kinds of shift in order to signal to the reader that the poem is reaching its end, and also to end the poem in the present moment, and often in the present continuous. This closural preference (which helps to give Heaney’s work its celebrated immediacy) is strong enough that it may be considered an element of poetic style. Where preference in poetic practice is strong, deviation in closural strategy can be purposeful, and conspicuous.

The study of closural deictic shifting, and the field of Closural Poetics more generally, may offer a framework through which these kinds of discussions can happen, and these kinds of patterns may be traced. What readers have now come to expect of different kinds of poetic endings will shape the effects these endings can have, and what practising poets will want their endings to achieve. Closural Poetics, and indeed any study of the end of the poem, can offer a microcosm through which to consider the poetic project as a whole (as in the case of Seamus Heaney), and a lens which may be used as a diagnostic resource, or a pedagogical tool.

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