Brown Shoes

Looks like little boy's shoes, they said. I didn't care — if they were from daddy, I liked them: rich dark brown round-toed, not quite Buster-Brownish. If they looked like little boy's shoes — so what? I wore them. 2.

In time, the house that held 7 people was condemned: uninhabitable. 7 people, torn to the ground. Levelled. In the rubble where the foundation had been, crushed and broken, but still whole, I found one brown shoe. I took it.

After we had revised her vignette, I asked Rutledge to comment on the experience: "I had used rhyme in writing poetry almost exclusively to lay an emotional foundation for my themes. So it was with wonder that I followed you into my prose piece, written totally without rhyme or poetic intention, as we transformed it into a poem.

"By, first of all, recognizing the more valid form for this piece as poetry — indeed, it is focused tightly on one metaphor—one can begin to 'hear' a musical strain, or emotional resonance. It carries a bittersweet memory that, with the strength of the metaphor and the key words to illustrate them, establish my theme and tone.

"What was left, then, was to give the words order and place them on the page to give them their emotional resonance, or music. The breakdown of stanzas, and the length and density of each line, suggest a natural rhythm and finally give the piece another layer of emotional resonance.

"You made a believer out of me."

That is my intention in this chapter —to make believers out of opposite camps —poets who think free verse really isn't poetry and ones who think it is but abandon form in the process.

In conclusion, let's introduce poems in the mini anthology that emphasize many of the points made in this chapter:

• "Inside the Light, the Figure That Holds Us" by Lucia Cordell Getsi, whose free verse has brought her a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship (among other honors). In this poem she employs structure as a frame and vehicle for her work. First, the idea — a painting in words whose beauty rivals Monet's —is, in itself, an epiphany about the power of poetry to capture the essence of art. Second, her lines are so well-crafted that they imply several levels of meaning or serve as precise units of speech. Third, her use of stanzas — a couplet pattern — eliminates the need for excessive punctuation; in fact, her poem consists of one sentence of more than one hundred eighty words! Finally, her first line is alluring and her last, even more so; the diction throughout the poem is brilliant —an intelligent, descriptive, sonorous voice.

• "Night Pleasures" by Dave Smith, a poet and writer who has authored more than twenty books. The poem featured here differs from his usual long narrated lyrics, combining elements of story with heightened lyrical moments. Says Smith, "I have begun to desire to write a new sort of poem" — one in which he attempts to "minimalize the story even more" and derive a "spare eloquence" in the process. But the focus on voice is not the only evidence of structure in his poem. Its irregular rhythm suits the topic: a little boat rocking against the "rhythmic landscape." Moreover, Smith uses stanza patterns to augment the effect, another brushstroke — wavelike on the page — that lets the reader see and hear that he is in full control of the poem.

• "$" by Joyce Carol Oates, a versatile writer and author of some fifty books. Her lyric has a perfect title —so perfect, in fact, that when I discuss this poem I often call it "Money," although that word never appears. Instead she uses the symbol $ and the pronoun it so her lines meld into each other like thoughts in one, long, breathless sentence (which, incidentally, slows down when commas are inserted in the last two lines, signaling the ending). Oates also controls other elements of her lyric. Her first line plays off the title, standing alone as a statement worthy of our attention, establishing the theme — it — and then sallying forth. Every other line thereafter, it seems, has a horizontal meaning and combines with the line beneath it, enhancing meaning. This verse about money is, alas, hardly "free."

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