Poetry is the delicious linguistic and oral art of transformation, taking one thing and holding it in light or dark and watching it transmute. These poems do that for shoes, every prism of the shoe is explored and illuminated so that we have a new taste on the tongue for an object that ranges from the mundane to the iconic, from the practical and functional, to the beautiful and seductive. This much is true: you cannot deny the power of the shoe.
"Red Slippers" by Amy Lowell
Much like the moment in "Sex and the City" when Carrie Bradshaw peers into the shoe shop window and sultrily addresses a pair of heels through the glass as "Hello, lo-vah," this poem perfectly captures the iconic status of the shoe—especially for women. It hones in precisely on the shoe as a fantasy, an aspiration, an untouchable object of desire. By contrasting the gray and white of the everyday world of shops and windy sleet against the "crimson lacquer," the "stalactites of blood," the "red rockets" of these slippers hanging in the window, she heightens the shoe to this intense, pulsing otherworldly object, held just beyond reach, behind glass.
"My Shoes" by Charles Simic
I love this poem for its characterization of the shoe as the "secret face of my inner life." What else gets as close to the body, day after day, knows every move, every nuance, knows where you are going and where you have been, and holds your mysteries like tea leaves? Simic hits on the shoe's humility, its ability to offer guidance, patience, and intimacy. With five stanzas of four lines each, the poem echoes the simplicity and durability of the shoe's structure as well. It is a pleasant musing, one that looks at the workaday shoe as a talisman, rather than just something laced up everyday to go from one place to another.
"The Broken Sandal" by Denise Levertov
This poem elevates the shoe to the role of providing direction in life. The shoe's absence leaves the poet bereft for where to head next, and meditative, as she wonders: "where am I standing, if I'm to stand still now?" Set right at the end of stanza, that potent question also lands in us, the reader, demanding us to turn in, and ask ourselves the same question: "Yes, where would I be if I were to stop right now, right here?"
"New Shoes" and "Red Shoes" by Honor Moore
These two poems appear Moore's slim volume, Red Shoes. The title poem is the last poem of the book, while "New Shoes" appears in the first section. "New Shoes" is a poem of desire and entanglement, of artifice and sensuality. It plays with dress-up between lovers, with undressing and revealing. The lines are as tangled and dovetailed as the requests the couple makes as they stand naked together, the mirror weaving in and out. The poem captures the shoe, its seductive qualities and powers of attraction, and the secret thoughts as it is taken off in private.
In "Red Shoes," the shoe is the final note in the poem, and the book itself. They are the speaker's reason she is unable to resist her lover's advances, as fraught as they may be. And haven't we all been seduced by the lover who is bad for us because of one tiny detail that tempts us back and back again? All of the universal push and pull of desire is at work in "those red shoes."
"Derrick Poem (The Lost World)" by Terrance Hayes
I love how this poem takes the shoe and wraps the speaker's whole world around it. It pops with the shoe right at the beginning, drawing the reader into the speaker's world: he's not supposed to buy the shoes because the money is for the light bill; a bus driver yells at a passenger; the speaker's friend drives up; it's the friend he saw last when he was with a white girl, feeling guilty about it; the friend is lonely; they talk about going to a movie. It's all captured and distilled in one fine stroke: Air Flights, blue & white.