In this issue, Joyce's review of Richard Fein

“My Chickens”, an essay.

To read Joyce's visit to the West Chester Writers' Conference

To read Joyce's review of Nadya Aisenberg.

To read Joyce's column on a critic's poetry collection.

To read Joyce's column on Stephen Burt and Michael Scharf in the PSA Panel on Criticism.

To read Perloff and Vendler Spar at PSA Panel on Criticism, part one of Joyce’s OBSERVATIONS


A review by Joyce in Summer 2000 of Thomas O’Grady

More work by Joyce Wilson in Spring 2000


A review of Wit

Poetry Porch Feature

The State of American Poetry: Roundtable Discussion

penObservations: A Column by Joyce Wilson

Arbiter of Neither Comfort nor Style: My Mother and Shoes

      “You have a wide foot,” my mother exclaimed looking over my shoulder and down at my feet, which were slipping in and out of various oxfords and tie shoes. “Like me.” She sighed. She repeated the litany of having feet so wide that no shoes fit properly, that she should have them custom made, that a shoemaker would have to have tremendous skill to produce a shoe that fit her feet and would not impede her walking. At that time, I thought she was voicing a reasonable complaint. I also believed that she was in the process of finding a solution to her problem. I did not know how wrong I was.
      My mother has never stopped resembling the tomboy she had been as a young girl. A former field hockey forward, she is practical, penny-pinching, and never one to put style above comfort. She would not let me buy penny loafers, the shoes I really wanted, citing reasons of styling over practicality. The shoe salesman supported my mother's boycott with the same tedious facts. “You have a wide foot and narrow heel. You'll never be able to keep loafers on your feet without straining your leg muscles.” So I consented to the purchase of puke green suede tie shoes that I wore three times. Soon we formed a truce; I would use my own allowance to pay for my own shoes. And then I found the shoe of the next era, the soft leather dance shoes. These carried me through my high school career in the rural suburbs of Pennsylvania. They fell apart after a couple of months at college walking in the city. Then I entered the era of the boot.
      Yet even I tired of boots after a few years, and one day my mother and I were shopping on the stylish streets of Georgetown and Washington D.C. when we saw an array of burnished leather shoes in the window of a small shop. They were remarkable because they had wide square toes and looked like the perfect shape for our wedgy feet. I tried on a pair and began to giggle, suggesting that our curse had been broken. “Finally someone is making shoes for our deformed feet!” I said. My mother began laughing also and bought a pair for herself. We called them our Porky Pig shoes.
      After that experience, I found that I had no trouble finding shoes that fit, shoes that were attractive, and shoes that were comfortable---all three in one. I was freed from the childhood myth that I would never find appropriate, suitable, and comfortable shoes. I was sure the arguments about the separation of comfort and style had ended.
      At this time I thought my mother had been enjoying parallel satisfaction buying shoes. When she visited me for lunch one afternoon, she wore a version of five-and-ten slippers from the subway. She was self-conscious about them, saying she relied on their comfort, these formless slippers with velcro straps that cost next to nothing. She repeated her satisfaction with the price. “My women friends agree with me about shoes. You can't find a decent pair anywhere! None of them fit. It's our unending source of conversation, and a big bore, don't you think?” She changed into leather pumps in the restaurant and then put her slippers back on as soon as we were outside. “I'm forever ducking into phone booths to change my shoes!” she laughed. “I know they look awful,” she said, “but they're the only shoes I can find that fit.”
      One evening, I convinced her to try a pair of sandals whose soles conform to the wearer's footprint. Full of hope, she bought a pair the next day and wore them to work, to and from the metro and at the office. By the end of the second day, she had severe ankle pain and could hardly walk. “I'm not used to the heel so low in back, I think,” she said.
      “Perhaps you should have worn them a little at a time, to get used to them,” I ventured. I was touched by her enthusiasm.
      “What do you use to cover the ridges?” She asked, explaining that she got foam inserts at the pharmacy.
      “You must have gotten the wrong size!” I cried. “The ridges should fit perfectly under your toes. Did you try on a number of sizes?”
      “Oh, yes. The sales girl brought out many I didn't like. I can't wear the backless ones, I told her. I wanted the ones with heel straps, and these were all she had. So I had to get these.” I could see my mother, flustered and anxious with the aggressive young sales girl.
      “I should have gone with you,” I said, venturing that she might try sandals with lugged rubber soles.
      “After this experience, I'll stick to my sneakers, thanks!” My mother said. “No more suggestions, please.”
      She rides a bicycle, walks, and gardens at age 79. In my vivid imagination, I see her moving with the freedom and confidence of a dancer in shoes that encourage flexibility and poise. Now I must admit that few of us ever evolve into our potential selves but instead remain summations of our complaints. And without our problems, what would constitute the dialogue?
      “I hope someday you find a pair of shoes that is comfortable,” I said.
      “No, no. No more experiments. What works for you doesn't work for me.”
      “I don't mean a pair of shoes that I recommend, but a pair of shoes that you admit that you find comfortable.”
      “I went to a cobbler last week. He said my feet aren't very wide and that I shouldn't have a problem with fit. He sent me back to the shoe emporium.”
      “Exactly,” I said. “You must keep looking and you'll find a pair you like.”
      “No, I've given up,” she said. “No one my age owns shoes that fit correctly. It's an impossible dream. Frankly, I've lost interest.”

***** Joyce Wilson is the editor and publisher of The Poetry Porch and a Contributing Editor and a columnist for The Drunken Boat.