Shoes: Poems About Footwear
Anthology by members of Highland Park Poetry
Co-editors: Jennifer Dotson and Mary Beth Bretzlauf
75 poems ~ 93 pages
Format: 6” x 9” ~ Perfect Bound
Price: $12.00
Publisher: Highland Park Poetry Press
ISBN-13: 9798523568879
To Order:

Reviewed by Michael Escoubas

Several years ago, my wife fulfilled one of my life-long aspirations by gifting me
with a pair of cowboy boots. Since finding comfortable footwear has always been
problematic, my new boots, fashioned from fine leather with a decorative design
are the most comfortable “shoes” I’ve ever had. I mention this rather obscure
event as I prepare to review Shoes: Poems About Footwear. They say that the best
poetry derives from life’s common things. So true. This collection fetes the feet of
the lives we live! Not only that, out of this most common of themes something
else emerges: Being real, being authentic. The truth (which is always the poet’s
goal) becomes manifest as the poems in this collection inevitably reveal the kind
of people we are, amid the lives we live.

First off, I was struck by the cover artistry. The front cover, designed by Monica
Cardestam, pictures an incredibly “high” high-heel with a bow and spangles. It is
doubtful that anyone would wear such a shoe. (Ladies feel free to correct me on
this one!) By way of contrast, the back cover, designed by Gail Denham, features
a pair of worn-out work shoes, scuffed, cut, completely spent by wear and work.
Thus, contrasting metaphors greet us tongue-in-cheek with a spoonful of truth.

Shoes is organized into four sections: 1: Working Shoes, 2: Comfort and fit, 3: A
Closet Full, and 4: Fashion Statement. We work, we seek pleasure, we accumulate
and we seek to set ourselves apart in a world that often demands conformity. All
of this and more finds expression through the erudite poems included by co-editors
Dotson and Bretzlauf. Highland Park Poetry Society, Highland Park, IL, has estab-
lished itself as among the premier poetry societies in the country. Its membership
is worldwide. Thus, the diversity and quality of each poem bears witness to HPP’s
well-deserved reputation.

“Empty Boots,” by Tricia Knoll, opens Section 1, with lessons from history that
left boots empty after the “The Trail of Tears,” or empty because of gun violence.
“My sign says empty shoes / for the shot deads.” Caroline Johnson’s “Blue Shoes,”
incorporates players from Greek mythology imagining the role shoes played in the
stories connected with each.

On another level, I’m especially drawn to the vibrant sounds of Joan Leotta’s
“Shoes from Two Dance Classes”:

        Click Clack, clickety.
        Tap shoes
        beat out a soft
        tattoo along the stone
        floor of grandma’s
        porch and our kitchen
        I tried to love the
        soft satin pink
        ballet slippers
        from my other class,
        but they were so
        aloof, never speaking
        always tsk tsking
        me to tighten them
        so we could silently
        glide wherever.
        Sigh. I’m a click clack,
        tap, tap kind of girl.
        I gave away those
        ballet slippers,
        very lightly worn,
        but kept the tap shoes
        until only my hands
        could fit in them,
        and click clack
        them on the floor.

Who among us hasn’t felt the life-tensions Leotta outlines in this poem?

The economical language of Chinese poet William Marr opens Section 2, “Shoes
New and Old”:

        with every step
        the pretentious
        new shoes
        at the memory
        the old

Profound truth contained within the device of understatement. Continuing with the
oriental forms, I identify with the “comfort” showcased in a haiku by Charlotte Di-

        Good Friday …
        walking to confession
        in worn shoes

Yes, worn shoes, how we need them to take our feet to the doorstep of the soul’s
deepest needs. Julie Sheldon imagines a centipede shopping for “New Shoes.” The
humor and vibrant visuals in this poem are captivating! For a practical take on the
value of shoes, I appreciated David J. Fitzgerald’s poem, “Benefit”:

        I walked a mile
        in another man’s shoe,
        wondering why my feet
        didn’t hurt.
        Of course they won’t,
        you silly person.
        He broke them in for you.
        You are reaping the
        the benefits of his journey.

I smile reading the poems in Section 3, “A Closet Full.” I often chide my wife for
the shoes she leaves laying around the house. I call them landmines. The abundance
of shoes and the things we do with them fill our lives with truth and joy. Shoes are
versatile, they represent a lifetime of memories, as Judith MK Kaufman observes:
there are Baby Booties, Mary Janes, Saddle Shoes, Sneakers, Penny Loafers, Little
Heels, and of course High Heels. Don’t miss the ending on this one.

Sliding into Section 4, “Fashion Statement,” readers encounter poems about old
blue pumps being washed out to sea, stilettos that blister heels, Doc Martens that
are “Bright and shiny, comfy but bulky.” There are “lost shoes,” shoes that define
Nancy Pelosi’s ability to “Command Congress,” black leather school shoes that
never get polished as a matter of principle. There are “frumpy” shoes, rental shoes
and shoes that transform life altogether. Is there anything that shoes can’t do?

While the foregoing question is wrapped in fun, Jennifer Dotson’s, “Pantoum for
Mrs. Hardcastle,” seems to anticipate a response:

        Putting on the costume changes the actress.
        The black shoes with pointed toes and fluted heels
        begin to alter my posture, my step, my gait.
        The corset tightens, straightening my spine.

        The black shoes with pointed toes and fluted heels
        are suggestive of the eighteenth century.
        The corset tightens, straightening my spine
        to become Lady Hardcastle in She Stoops to Conquer,

        Something suggestive of the eighteenth century.
        The wig towers above my brow with sculpted, powdered curls
        and I become Lady Hardcastle in She Stoops to Conquer.
        Contours of shadow and light make my features visible.

        The wig towering above my brow with sculpted, powdered curls,
        and my speech transforms to her British syllables.
        Contours of shadow and light make my features visible.
        A critic said my voice could summon dogs from afar.

        My speech transformed to her British syllables.
        My being altered—my posture, my step, my gait—
        a critic said my voice could summon dogs from afar.
        Putting on the costume changes the actress.

Note: Italics in the last line by the editor for emphasis.


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