Episode 1: Shoes
Poetry: three mismatched shoes at the entrance of a dark alley.
—Charles Simic, Dime-Store Alchemy
One of my favorite moments in the classroom comes from sharing this quote and, before digging into the meaning of this singular definition of poetry, turning to my students and asking: What shoes do you see at the entrance of a dark alley? As students call out their specific visions (High heels! Muddy boots and a sneaker! Sandals!), the suggestive power of this lyrical phrase is made clear. With our respective “shoes” in hand, we are able to go back to the opening premise and work at answering the question: What’s poetry got to do with shoes?
My goal in these columns will be to muse on various everyday ideas and objects that might not naturally be associated with poetry. I believe that no matter how high its aesthetic, a poem lives or dies essentially on its relation to real life. This work of relating one thing to another is poetic at its center, like a set of muscles that is exercised via metaphor versus crunches. I plan on discussing things as varied as astrology, barbeque, and knitting, all with an eye toward how people relate different experiences and literacies to make sense of the world, themselves, and, yes, sometimes even poems.
In the case of Simic’s mismatched shoes at the entrance of a dark alley, the conversation moves forward in questions: How did the shoes get there? What happened for them to get there? Who’s walking around with one shoe on? All of these questions are poetry, or rather, this questioning after meaning is poetry. Move from the dark alley to the shoe store for a moment, and think of that feeling of finding a new pair of Converse (or your own preferred shodding) in an odd color, that mix of questions to the self (Can I pull these off? Are these shoes really me?); then move back to the dark alley: Who pulled these off?
This piecing together, clueing in and out of ideas of self, are what shoes have to do with poetry. There’s also all sorts of puns to be gotten from shoes (some real “sole” talk, if you will), but that would be another column.