The Great Poem Series: Denise Duhamel’s “How It Will End”

Published in the winter 2015/16 edition of Barrow Street, Denise Duhamel’s “How It Will End” is a poem of witness and of acceptance. It was published in Best American Poetry 2009. She has received grants and awards from numerous organizations, including a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship. She is also the guest editor of Best American Poetry 2013. Denise Duhamel is an associate professor of English at Florida International University in Miami, and wrote the poem after a walk on the beach. Duhamel said she was “interested in the way the speaker and her husband were able to observe and judge another couple in crisis, rather than look at their own relationship. Or alternately, looking at the young couple gave the speaker and her husband a way to talk about their failing relationship.” Duhamel is able to craft an intense, electric poem that leaves the reader questioning the stability of both relationships, and intrigued to find out what happens next.

At first glance, I thought Duhamel’s poem was too long, causing me to turn the page to try and find something else to work with. The title, however, was captivating, and made me think, “How will what end?” I returned back to the poem, and instantly loved it. Its voice was casual yet indulging and electric, and I felt as if it wasn’t so much a poem, but a short, short story. The poem starts off with a couple observing two individuals who looked to be in an argument. The couple then proceeds to make up a storyline about them, saying that the girlfriend is a waitress while the boyfriend is a lifeguard. The woman seems to favor the girlfriend, while the man is on the boyfriend’s side. They soon start to project their own relationship problems onto the couple, as Duhamel writes, “I’m angry at him for seeing glee in their situation // and say, ‘That’s your problem—you think every fight // is funny. You never take her seriously,’ and he says, // ‘You never even give the guy a chance and you’re always nagging, // so how can he tell the real issues from the nitpicking?’” The emotions were intensified once the couple began to bicker with each other, shifting farther away from the young couple. It was almost as if they were addressing their own problems through the story they created. the author was able to create two different scenarios while describing one. Duhamel’s writing style differentiates itself from a traditional poem; meaning that although it’s stanza and word choice are unusual, it is able to portray the story more clearly. She is effective when placing the reader within the situation and adding tension and heat to what is being read. I personally loved the poem because of its ability to create a movie-like scene for the audience. The word choice and format was also very appealing, since poetry itself isn’t that enjoyable for me.

The irony within the poem is noticeable as well, considering that the poem started out as the couple pointing out the flaws of the fighting pair, but they end up arguing themselves without coming to a resolution. I noticed that they simply place their problems onto the couple that they see, without directly acknowledging their own issues stemming from their toxic relationship. The title makes the reader question if they possibly end their relationship because of the argument and the problems that they bring up when bickering. The ending, along with the title, leave you wondering if they stay together as well. I like the intensity in the beginning, and how it suddenly seems still at the end, when they notice that nobody is around and the couple has made up. I also like how the author used the flag as an example of trouble. A red flag (when using it while lifeguarding) means a rough current. Duhamel is able to use the flag as a symbol for a rough patch in the young couple’s relationship. Once they make up, the flag “flutters, then hangs limp.” The poem is successful in drawing in the reader, due to its eye-catching title and untraditional format. It reads like a book would, and definitely leaves the reader wanting more. Duhamel also uses language that is casual and fluent. The main idea behind her writing wasn’t hard to find, but was very intriguing. Poems that are nearly impossible to figure out are categorized as dull and anticlimactic, but her writing was electric and vivacious. She wrote with a sense of passion and placed the reader within their situation.

Denise Duhamel wrote the poem “How It Will End” after a walk on the beach “very much like the one described in this poem”. Duhamel said she was “interested in the way the speaker and her husband were able to observe and judge another couple in crisis, rather than look at their own relationship. Or alternately, looking at the young couple gave the speaker and her husband a way to talk about their failing relationship.” I highly encourage others to read this poem because it is a great story if you don’t necessarily enjoy poetry. It’s out-of-the-box format and language give it a casual yet electric setting, and the deeper meaning is very interesting to find. I think the average high school student, who is not typically drawn to poetry, would find this to be truly interesting, although the length is intimidating at times. Above all, Denise Duhamel was able to portray two different plot lines while catering to the average poetry reader.

Reading of “How It Will End”

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