'You Were Wearing', by Kenneth Koch

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'You Were Wearing', by Kenneth Koch

Postby k-j » Mon Apr 09, 2007 5:24 pm

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 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 mashed into a likeness of the mad English king, George the Third.
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Postby k-j » Mon Apr 09, 2007 5:27 pm

I love the pellucid dreaminess of this - the way the historical faces loom and sway, imprinting themselves on the recollection.
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Postby Wabznasm » Tue Apr 10, 2007 11:06 pm

CHeers for the poem KJ, I haven't read any of Koch's stuff.

It's interesting how you found the references pellucid since I find them quite obtrusive.

But that's the brilliance of the poem.

You could take the theory behind it and apply it as either a daunting thing or a natural thing. It really depends on the reading.

My only problem (and this stems from my reading of it) is that I think the theory he's displaying is not particularly subtle. It's a little... didactic.
But then it depends on how deep you want to dig in order to find a subtle poem dealing with the same theories - at least you don't have to force this theoretical reading of it. It's there.

(Urgh, that reminds me of a rather laboured essay I once wrote where I attempted to apply this form of literary theory to a poem written nearly 400 years ago by Ben Jonson).

Oh, and one note:'pullucid'. Stunning word. Cheers for that.
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Postby k-j » Tue Apr 10, 2007 11:37 pm

I'm not sure what the underlying theory is here, if there is one. What do you mean by that, Wabz?

For me, the names contribute to the poem's dreaminess. You know how in dreams, you see disparate people, family and famous, all sorts of people in the wrong place - it's the same here with Poe on the dress and George III on the garbage can lid. Then the next thing is that this is a recollection, and you realise that memories and dreams are actually quite similar.

I didn't attach any specific meaning to the names in my reading (not sure if that's what you mean by didactic). Until just now, I hadn't noticed that they were all writers or statesmen.

I haven't read any other Koch either - I just saw this on someone's blog. Trouble with American poets is they're inconsistent, so I don't hold out great hopes for this guy.
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Postby Wabznasm » Wed Apr 11, 2007 9:53 am

Yeah - that idea on how history and dreams are always a part of the present was one main part of the theory I was talking about.

The theory I saw though (that, for me, isn't hugely subtle in the way it's done) is the whole idea of historical/literary influence. Koch was a clever bloke and I assume was aware of the sort of ideas coming out around his time and I think this poem is a really overt nod to them to be honest. It's the whole theory of nothing being original, everything being merely a mixture of the past and the present and the text being "a tissue of quotations drawn from the innumerable centres of culture." (that's from The Death of the Author)

I don't know how deliberate this all is in his poem, but I can't ignore it. And since most of the names are writers or texts it's even harder to ignore that.

But then that's an intensely dull academic reading of it -

By didactic I meant that it wasn't elusive in its meaning. To me, it was hammering down this point.

Still, decent poem.
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