friday feast: what are you wearing?

I bet you think I’m going to share a Poe poem today.

I can’t because I’m not wearing black, and my raven’s out sick.

No, today, I’m wearing blue Winnie the Pooh pajamas that glow in the dark. My mentioning this might raise your expectations just a tiny bit — will this post contain a flash of brilliance from A.A. Milne?

When I first read Kenneth Koch’s “You Were Wearing,” I smiled at all the cultural references. I was drawn in right away by the poem’s freshness and curious details, and suitably teased by the suspense. I love Koch’s spontaneity, side-swiping humor and unpredictability. I also love that if you look beneath the light, casual tone, you find a more perplexing message (which I’m still pondering). Koch is a master at enrobing the profound with playfulness.

Just like the narrator and girl in the poem, as readers we approach pieces of writing clothed in expectation of the experience to come. What habits of understanding are you wearing today?


by Kenneth Koch

You were wearing your Edgar Allan Poe printed cotton blouse.
In each divided up square of the blouse was a picture of Edgar Allan Poe.
Your hair was blonde and you were cute. You asked me,
“Do most boys think that most girls are bad?”
I smelled the mould of your seaside resort hotel bedroom
on your hair held in place by a John Greenleaf Whittier clip.
“No,” I said, “it’s the girls who think that boys are bad.”
Then we read Snowbound together
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.
Mother was walking in the living room, her Strauss Waltzes comb in her hair.
We waited for a time and then joined her, only to be served tea in cups painted with pictures of Herman Melville
As well as with illustrations from his book Moby-Dick and from his novella, Benito Cereno.
Father came in wearing his Dick Tracy necktie: “How about a drink, everyone?”
I said, “Let’s go outside a while.” Then we went onto the porch and sat on the Abraham Lincoln swing.
You sat on the eyes, mouth and beard part, and I sat on the knees.
In the yard across the street we saw a snowman holding a garbage can lid smashed into a likeness of the mad English king, George the Third.

~ from Thank You and Other Poems (Grove, 1962).

Today’s Poetry Friday Roundup is at Carol’s Corner. I wonder what she’s wearing. ☺

18 thoughts on “friday feast: what are you wearing?

  1. I’ve had them for years, now. I forget whether they were a gift or if I bought them myself. They’re light blue, with little Poohs and half moons. You have to stand under direct light for a few minutes to activate the glow feature. Then you turn off the lights, and voila! I also have a pair of pajamas with words on them that glow. 🙂


  2. Yes, but I’m sure you’ve worn those clothes while reading something by or about someone famous. Think how complex your wardrobe is during winter, when you wear layers of meaning!


  3. I enjoy reading your commentary as much as the poem. What struck me most was your comment about cultural references. For me there were none. It isn’t that I do not recognize the references rather there is no identification with the objects and that made me think how a reader can easily sense a disconnect between herself and the world she’s looking at.


  4. This poem sounds like an adult, just risen from sleep, relating a complicated dream in the matter-of-fact storytelling voice of a child. The combination of the two has a weirdly hypnotizing effect.


  5. I love Sara’s description. I was thinking something along the lines of feeling like I’m at a tea party with the Mad Hatter … or perhaps that’s a Mad King. 🙂

    Love the thought of you in your glow-in-the-dark Winnie the Pooh pj’s!


  6. Interesting reaction! Could it be that part of what Koch was trying to say is that we tend to overload everyday objects/occurrences in our lives with our own particular brand of significance — that we can’t help but impose ourselves on every little thing? The more I read this poem, the more complex it seems. As I said, I’m still busy trying to solve this puzzle . . .


  7. Yes, I totally see what you’re saying!! And then it’s always fun, but challenging, to try to interpret what a dream could mean. The references are rooted in the real world, but the laying together of them in this little narrative doesn’t seem to be. I read the whole poem through with great expectations of the ending, and then I was left with ????? Was this part of Koch’s intention?


  8. Sara’s description really is great! I like the comparison to a Mad Tea Party too. Maybe the poem is a statement about how we each create our own realities?


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