An American Poem

By Eileen Myles


Welcome to our exploration of “An American Poem” by Eileen Myles! 📘✨ This poem is a fascinating journey into the self and society, penned by a celebrated figure in contemporary American literature. Eileen Myles, known for their candid and unconventional writing style, challenges conventional norms through their poetry. “An American Poem” is no exception, offering a unique blend of personal narrative and political commentary.

The poem belongs to the genre of confessional poetry, where the speaker delves into their innermost thoughts and feelings, often addressing taboo or personal subjects. What makes this poem particularly intriguing is how it intertwines the poet’s identity with broader societal themes, questioning what it means to be an American. Let’s delve into this intriguing piece!

Meaning of An American Poem

Opening Section
In the opening lines of “An American Poem,” Myles introduces themselves with a startling declaration of identity, claiming to be a Kennedy. This isn’t a literal assertion but a metaphorical one, suggesting the shaping of personal identity through the lens of iconic American figures. The poet sets a tone of irony and skepticism towards American celebrity culture and political dynasties.

Mid Section
As the poem progresses, Myles shifts from the grandiose declaration to a more introspective examination of their actual life and experiences, contrasting the mythical American narrative with their reality. Here, the poem peels away the layers of the public persona to reveal the private struggles and the dissonance between public perception and personal identity.

Concluding Section
In the concluding section, Myles reflects on the impact of this identity crisis, both on a personal and a societal level. The poet critiques the American dream and explores the broader implications of living under such a heavily mythologized national identity. The poem ends with a contemplative and somewhat unresolved tone, inviting the reader to question their own place within these narratives.

In-depth Analysis

Stanza 1 —

  • Literary Techniques: Myles uses conversational tone and direct address to engage the reader immediately.
  • Syntax and Diction: The choice of simple, colloquial language makes the poem accessible, while the declaration “I am a Kennedy” shocks the reader, drawing them into the narrative.
  • Figurative Language: The persona adopts the identity of a Kennedy, using metaphor to critique how Americans idolize and emulate celebrities and political figures.

Stanza 2 —

  • Literary Techniques: Here, irony is prominent as Myles details their “true” background, which starkly contrasts the earlier claim.
  • Syntax and Diction: The shift to more introspective and personal language highlights the dissonance between public and private selves.
  • Figurative Language: Descriptions of personal history serve as a juxtaposition to the public myths of American greatness.

Stanza 3 —

  • Literary Techniques: Myles uses repetition of certain key phrases to emphasize the cyclical nature of public and private life narratives.
  • Syntax and Diction: The language becomes more fragmented and introspective as the stanza progresses, reflecting the breakdown of the persona’s constructed identity.
  • Figurative Language: The poem culminates in a metaphor comparing the poet’s life to a mismanaged estate, symbolizing the chaotic and often contradictory nature of American identity.

Poetic Devices used in An American Poem

DeviceExample from the Poem
Metaphor“I am a Kennedy” as an allegory for American cultural identity
IronyClaiming a grandiose identity then revealing a humbler reality
Alliteration“My money, my manor” to enhance the musicality of the text
RepetitionRepeated use of “I am” to emphasize self-reflection
SymbolismThe Kennedy name symbolizes American fame and tragedy
ImageryVivid descriptions of personal and historical events
PersonificationGiving human traits to abstract concepts like “American dream”
HyperboleExaggerated statements about identity and heritage
AnaphoraRepetition of “I am” at the beginnings of lines for emphasis
JuxtapositionContrasting personal anecdotes with public perceptions

An American Poem – FAQs

Q: What is the main theme of “An American Poem” by Eileen Myles?
A: The main theme revolves around identity, both personal and as an American. It examines how public perceptions can overshadow personal reality.

Q: How does Eileen Myles use poetic devices to enhance the poem?
A: Myles employs devices like metaphor, irony, and repetition to critique and dissect the layers of American identity and the disparity between public myths and personal truths.

Q: What makes “An American Poem” relevant to contemporary readers?
A: The poem’s exploration of identity, fame, and the concept of the American dream remains highly relevant, reflecting ongoing societal debates about authenticity and cultural heritage.

Q: How does the structure of the poem affect its message?
A: The structure, with its shifts from bold declarations to introspective doubts, mirrors the poem’s thematic exploration of the unstable and constructed nature of identity.

An American Poem Study Guide

Exercise: Identifying Poetic Devices in a Verse

Verse provided: “I am a Kennedy. I’m not going to be one of the lost Kennedys.”

Instructions: List all the poetic devices used in this verse. Consider how each device contributes to the overall impact of the verse on the reader.


  1. Metaphor: “I am a Kennedy” – The speaker metaphorically claims to be a Kennedy, not in literal terms but to invoke the cultural and historical weight the Kennedy name carries in America.
  2. Irony: By stating “I’m not going to be one of the lost Kennedys,” there is an ironic undertone since the speaker is neither a literal Kennedy nor lost in the grand historical or tragic sense often associated with the Kennedy family.
  3. Repetition: The repeated use of “I am” and “I’m not” emphasizes the speaker’s assertion of identity and simultaneous denial of expected narratives or outcomes.
  4. Allusion: Referring to “the lost Kennedys” alludes to the famous and often tragic fate of many Kennedy family members, enriching the text with historical and cultural connotations.

This exercise encourages students to delve deeper into the text, understanding how poetic devices are not just decorative but serve to deepen the thematic content and emotional resonance of the poem.