Original poem reprinted online here: "The Teller" by David Mason
Originally read: January 14, 2013
More information about the Poet: David Mason
So this poem is tricky. Yes, indeed that these is a narrative. Also this is a Elizabethan Sonnet (even though the construction is separated in eight and six), so the volta in the poem is the couplet at the end. So within the form already there's a bit of a sleight of hand.
However, it's not really realized in the first eight lines. The poem starts off like a regular narrative about how an Eskimo named Jack got lost at sea while fishing. This all feels like back story, but what makes this poem work for me is that the back story is literally eight lines -- all I need to know is there.
Then the next five lines, I believe, chronicle the five years the Eskimo took to go back home. I write this:
The anaphora matches the passage of time. Technique wise, it's pretty brilliant.
1 [year one] Did the English control Singapore 30 years ago? Maybe I'm thinking about this too much [I do want to add that it's the "post-colonialism" name of Jack for the Eskimo -- if you catch my drift (pun) -- Jack was already starting to amalgamate to the outside world]
2 [year two] Move to Bali -- hustle [note Jack is already in an opposite world -- from what he used to be to what he is perceived to be]
3 [year three] Drugs in Vietnam -- a change of state [literally, physically, and metaphorically]
4 [year four] Wanting to return [more specifically to snow which has it's own connotations -- pure, past]
However I don't agree with 5 which is (what I wrote), "What vessel would turn back to a simple wasteland." More directly, the poem refers back to the title, "The Teller." The poem is about the person telling the story not the story itself and the couplet wants to reinforce that with direct commentary.
That the speaker listening to the teller, and admits that that he doesn't remember who the teller was. Now through a play of cantrips and word play -- the focus on the "he said, he said" discussion disappears, and, for me, at least, and the story takes over.
However, by pointing out the teller (writer) means nothing but the relationship between the story and the reader mean everything (or at least takes up the poem) brings in a metapoetics. What role does the teller play in an art piece. And in this poem...the teller is just a puzzling filter that's least interesting than the subject.