Original poem reprinted online here: "No Return" by William Matthews
Originally read: February 10, 2013
More information about the Poet: William Matthews
Three stanzas sestets. When I think of sestets, I think of Freytag's theory of Narrative -- exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, denouement. Even though there's five parts to the theory, my mind thinks this way probably because of all the sestets I've read (including Italian sonnet form). Now what does this mean to the poem that isn't narrative (the last half of the poem is narrative in a sense).
Exposition -- "I like divorce" In the first stanza the speaker drops a pretty loaded word, "divorce" into the poem; however, the speaker redefines the term rather quickly by not dwelling on the definition of the word rather focus on the tone. "I like divorce," the full first sentence reads a bit sarcastically for me. I think it's the brevity that punctuates the sarcasm. Anyway, the line sets off humorous images like letters of resignation smelling like "lemonhue." What caught me off guard with the first stanza was the line, "Do you like the scent of hollyhock? (yes) But the addressing of the "you" comes out of nowhere. Past me marks the you as "the one leaving the speaker." No, I don't think that now. Oddly enough, I take the "you" as the rhetorical to set up tone. It's not who is addressed rather the question asked which is based on the constructions of "I like" or "I love" Really disarming lines, smell imagery, lines like "to each his own" The first stanza sets up a sarcastic, but not too biter, disarming tone. This was one long exposition part (longer than I thought).
Rising action -- "I love a burning bridge." Note how the speaker writes he loves a burning bridge -- the thought of a bridge. Not to burn a bridge, not to have someone else burning a bridge -- the concept of a burning bridge is what he "loves" The statement is so strong here that there's the expectation of follow up. The follow up comes in the form of an extended simile. The speaker compares a burning bridge to watching a small boat fall by waterfall. There's lines like, "a little and a little more and then" which build up the simile, but the line also continues the tone, sarcastic, but disarming. The climax then is set up to be 1) a change in tone 2) a change in image.
Climax -- "the boat points doomily down" Again this poem is not a narrative, but has elements of a narrative. The climax should be the most explosive thing in a narrative, but for this poem -- the climax is stated a bit level even with the adverb being "doom." This line brings me back to the first line "I like divorce" because maybe the action of saying a person wants a divorce isn't as important as the lead up or the drop off. That "divorce" the concept in itself defines only the separation and not what leads to the separation and what happens afterwords.
Falling action -- "the screams of the soon-to-be-dead / last longer by echo than the screamers do." Ah here we are, in the beginning there was a focus on smell, now at this juncture sound. The tone changes to have a bitter tone with the description of "soon-to-be-dead." The description is too on point for the end. The line is like hearing someone saying "I told you so" snarkily. Then comes the image of the echo lasting longer than the screamers -- which brings up the idea of the aftermath.
Conclusion -- there is no conclusion. Why did I want to bring this up when there's a couple more lines left in the final stanza. This is just a reminder that the last lines refer to the simile comparison of "I love a burning bridge" to a falling boat. Also not the absence of the "I" out of the poem in the last two stanzas. If the poem started out what the speaker likes, then the end of the poem refers to moments that are so distant to the speaker that the images are set up to be more for metaphorical interpretation rather than speaker epiphany.
Let's go to the video tape, the news-
caster intones, and the control room does,
and the boat explodes again and again.
Metaphorically speaking, these action, so disparate from the simile of only the boat falling, brings an observer aspect to the poem. And I take these last lines to be more of a metaphor for the internal mind when things don't go so well. The "control room" could be about how one tries to hold back painful memories, but in this case the "control room" acknowledges or wants to see the tragedy again and again for what reason? Entertainment? the rush of self-depreciation? In any case the Michael Bayesque last line -- "the boat explodes again and again" is the returning of same crash -- the same moment when things fall apart.