Poetry Review | ‘Chicago Epithalamion’ by Dan Howell

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You can read Chicago Epithalamion for free with the link!

Image of Dan Howell from Poetry Foundation

Ever read a poem that is a reference to other poems and poetic forms but you know nothing about poetry so you don’t get the joke? That was this poem for me. At first, there was something about how that poem made me feel that drew me in and made me want to dig deeper and share the poem with others. But once I started my digging I realised that there was so much more going on here than I originally thought. I’m going to try and share what I learned but I want to make it clear that my experience with poetry is limited. I want to learn more but until I do I could be way off the mark with this.

But this is the internet so I’m going to share my uneducated opinions anyway.

I think what stood out to me about this poem first was the voice. There’s a kind of conversational feel to the narrator. This is a story that’s about an internal turmoil about not being a part of a relationship the way you want to be. Someone close to the narrator is getting married and the narrator isn’t overjoyed about it. They’ve skipped the wedding because they can’t stand to be there in person. It’s as if this person is addressing part of the party getting married directly and there’s something very powerful in this perspective. The narrator feels like they are sitting across from the reader and telling them their sorrows.

This fits with the title in an ironic kind of way. If you’re like me then you had no idea what epithalamion meant. Basically, it’s a poem written for a bride to celebrate her coming marriage. It was a popular form in classical Greece. There’s a poem by Edmund Spencer by the same name that was written back in 1595. There’s also one by E. E. Cummings. Lots of “dost” and “thou” going around with these poems.

Here, Howell is playing off the form by creating a poem that mourns the marriage and loss of the bride to someone else. And while there is plenty of melancholy in this poem, there is also a sense of acceptance which I enjoy. There are somethings you have to be sad about in order to move on from them.

By far the most heartbreaking moment of this poem is the last two sentences: “Always. Always.” There’s this echoing feel to the final words that creates a sense of nostalgia. And, if this were a happier story, these words would be reassuring. Instead, there’s so much hurt and, in a way, betrayal in these words because they’re not being said to the narrator but to whom ever the other half of the married couple is.

Rating: 3/5

I wouldn’t say it’s a poem that will stick in my memory for very long but it is a poem that made me feel something from the very first line. The imagery is so strong that, even when it isn’t directly describing a feeling, the reader can empathize with what these speculations mean to the narrator. It’s a poem that says so much without having to say almost anything at all.

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