“You Were Wearing” is a free-verse lyric poem consisting of thirteen long lines divided into two stanzas. Most of Kenneth Koch’s lines appear to be two or three lines long on the page, but each one is considered a single poetic line. The title is taken from the first line of the poem: “You were wearing your Edgar Allan Poe printed cotton blouse.” What follows is a series of scenes of family life and innocent adolescent flirtations between the speaker and a “cute” girl addressed in the poem as “you,” with incongruous references to figures from American history and literature. These imply that the place of the poem is a resort, possibly in New England, the region of the United States that fostered both American revolutionary fervor and served as the cradle of American literature. However, the allusions are meant to be out of place and comic in their effect. To emphasize this, Koch’s historical and literary references are often intentionally artificial and grammatically awkward, as in the last line of the first stanza: “And ran around in an attic, so that a little of the blue enamel was scraped off my George Washington, Father of His Country, shoes.”
Though the poem does not pinpoint a specific setting, one cannot doubt that the characters appearing in the poem are all Americans, and the reader may well recognize the nationalism that celebrates all things American. This overly patriotic impulse is satirized by the poem, especially...
(The entire section is 436 words.)