Monday, May 27, 2013

Analysis of "Dinner Out" by Christopher Howell

Original poem reprinted online here: "Dinner Out" by Christopher Howell
Originally read: February 19, 2013
More information about the Poet: Christopher Howell

I was looking this poem up to link to it, then I ran into this youtube video of a man, Hektor Munoz, reading the poem out loud.  Now when I first read this poem, I probably read the poem in my head.  And here's the real danger of reading a poem in the head -- the automatic construction of both theme and meaning, if too strong, will override the actual words on the page. 

So after listening to Hektor Munoz read "Dinner Out" out loud -- yeah, my interpretation the page is somewhat different than what is actually there.  I'll get to that point soon.

I do want to point out that the stanza focuses a lot on images.  The construction of the images are nice, but a little too nice, a little too precise; meanwhile, the actual place is a not remembered.  From the first stanza, there's a feel that the speaker has a selective memory and/or presents selective images.  For example, this part in the first stanza

"[...] I preferred the Canton
for its black, and bright red signs
with the dragon leaping out of it
and sneezing little pillows of smoke."

There's further description of the interior in the first stanza which could be a symbol, however, I don't take these images as symbols.   I keep rereading them and they register for me as escapist images.  Note how the speaker focuses on the image of a preference, meaning that where he is going is not where he prefers.  Also with the image, there's an expectation of a comparison -- this place versus other places, or rather, what does the speaker prefer.

And, comically so, there's a set of rhetorical questions that go along of what does the speaker want in regards to food.  My analysis on the page is quite different actually.  I thought the second stanza was a dialogue between father and son on what to eat.  The "we" in the beginning kind of foreshadowed another person.  I actually attached the line "Sweet and sour?" to the father.  I think this is a wrong interpretation of the poem for two reasons:

1) There is no mention of the father in the first stanza (yet, there's a we).
2) There is no explicit modifiers to the rhetorical questions, and even though I interpreted this as a dialogue, the poem completely changes if the second stanza is seen as a dialogue or internal monologue.

I'll keep with my current interpretation that this is the speakers mundane internal monologue that has the father's metaphor of noodles "deep fried worms," as a sense of remembrance, because the internal monologue sets up a separation between the speaker and the moment.

Then the next stanza focuses on the meal and how the father turns to the son (confronts) and ask a simple question, "How you doing, son?"

Then the core of the poem happens in the first line of the last stanza, "Fine, Dad. Great, really, [..]"  Here's the kick.  There's no separation between the dialogue and the stanza, or this could be interpreted that the speaker doesn't say anything and the response is internal.

So that's how past me came up with conclusion from further separation and the speaker going internal from the last lines, "and drove and drove, / though we hadn't far to go,"

I actually read the last line as "we hadn't gone to far"  but that is not the sentence, but does this change my interpretation.  Sort of.  The separation is apparent and it's only a little more further until it's gone versus the separation is there and there's no turning back.  Yes they are different concepts, but the focus is on the speaker being the catalyst for the separation, not so much the father.

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