April 12, 2016

Monday, April 13, 2015

NPM 2015: What Are You Wearing, Heidi Mordhorst?

Readers, you know I am a fan of shoes.

There are these beauties (a gift from my mother-in-law):

Nothing cheers up a wet day
like a pair of colorful goloshes.
Check out these of fancy rain boots
featured at The Art of Accessories.
And, of course, there is my collection of tiny shoes.

George and Martha are always
in step with each other.
Made for bound feet?
Mini Fenton glass slipper
So I had to put my dancing shoes on when guest blogger Heidi Mordhorst told me the theme of today's post: Boots!

Throughout April, guest bloggers are putting on their costumes and best outfits as we feature poetry about clothes. Why clothes? Read this post.

In addition to the guest bloggers, every Friday in April I'll post a round-up of original and recommended clothing poems. (Send those via email to laurashovan at gmail dot com or leave them in the comments). You'll find this week's writing prompt at the bottom of this post.

Meet today's guest blogger, poet and educator -- and my good friend --  Heidi Mordhorst. So, what are you wearing, Heidi?

Boots.  I’m wearing boots, and here’s a reason why:  a Mother's Day card from 2014.  I wrote to my mom, born 1939, about some of the things I brought home when they gave up their “real house” and moved to a smaller retirement place, and about some of the things that I had re-encountered when we moved in 2012.

“Dear Mom,

Here I am, surrounded by things that were put away and 'forgotten' until we had to move. All this year as I've been messing around in the garage, in all those boxes, in my closet, I realize that I've been working my way towards a REAL project (rather than an inane and embarrassing obsession with Stuff). 

Clothes--what they are and what they mean about us when we wear them--are not exactly poetry, although I have written poems about certain items of my clothes. But I could write a whole book about all the clothes of my life, and the book starts here and here:
   v  Lila’s Paper Doll Clothes, Made About 1950

Heidi’s “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang Dress” c. 1968 >

What artistry! What fine craftswomanship! No wonder I care.  No wonder I thought I could teach myself to quilt all of a sudden in 1990. No wonder we both get compliments on our "looks."

In fact very little is forgotten of all the first-day-of-school dresses (1969-1986), the sewing and embroidery lessons (the white crinkled cotton peasant blouse with the embroidered yoke, c. 7th grade, worn with the red Levi's 'Bend Over' pants), the things you bought me and 'Guess what I almost bought you today!' Once I started brain-dumping all the mental images I have of my clothes I could barely stop and get dressed to go to school:

  • ·         the occasions that demanded them: the star-spangled outfit I wore on July 4th, 1976
  • ·         the sensory details of each item: the leather clogs you brought from Italy
  • ·         the emotional importance of the moments in which they feature: choosing Wesleyan because of purple parachute pants and black-and-white yard-sale stilettos
  • ·         the statements I have made with them: pink suede cowboy boots in the dead of a Munich winter

Thank you, Mom, for the gift of style, the gift of attention to detail and the tradition of handwork, and even for the gift of hypercritical observation and judgment of myself, which can be a helpful skill in writing poetry. Thank you for all the ways you have contributed and will contribute to my clothing memoir—won’t this be fun?!

With closets full of love,
Heidi xoxoxo”

Dear readers, does this begin to explain my excitement when I saw what Laura was planning for April?  And I have not even touched on the slightly sick obsession with online “fashion bloggers” and “capsule wardrobes” and “closet remixes” that took me over in 2014 when I had a kindergarten class that I just could not manage well enough. My clothes, however, obediently did all kinds of things I asked of them without refusing, running out of the room, or spitting at me.

While I have recovered somewhat from this desperate need to exert control, the plan for the memoir lives on. It won’t be the only clothing memoir in existence, but perhaps the first clothing-memoir-in-verse. Have you read Love, Loss and What I Wore by Ilene Beckerman?  Have you seen the off-Broadway show it turned into? Nora Ephron, who adapted the book into a script, said this book "is not about fashion; it is about what clothes really are to us, those moments when we are constantly trying to find our identity through them." 

I disagree with Nora—Love, Loss and What I Wore IS about fashion, about what the world considers fashionable at any given moment and what it means to us if we care about appearing fashionable. And I agree with Nora—through our clothing choices we find and express our identity. Part of this for me, I’m discovering in reading other “What Are You Wearing?” posts, is that my experience of my actual body is almost 100% determined by what I’m wearing—since I’m wearing something almost 100% of the time. (I’m probably revealing something frightfully personal by admitting that I have hardly spent any time naked in my life, but that’s just the way I was brought up.) 

For this reason clothing poems are literally TOUCHING to me--every word and phrase becomes sensory and sensual because clothing poems are about the objects and articles that touch and texture, shape and color our bodies. And for some of us, clothes are part of our daily arts—like cooking might be for some, or writing for others. We size up the constraints of weather and activity and what’s clean, and we make some artful choices within those limits, kind of like putting “the best words in the best order.”

And we use clothes, don’t we, to show ourselves as we wish we were, as well as who we really are? Here’s a poem that began with the first pair of boots I ever owned, in about 11th grade, and continues to this day as I say goodbye to the boots I wore all winter and think about what shoes are going to make me feel like Penelope Pitstop all summer…

by Heidi Mordhorst 

These boots aren’t just for walking—
they’re a shiny black mask for my feet.
They shift my balance, turn me into a bandit
who steals into secret identities.

She sneaks out wielding Xena’s sword in one hand
and Sappho’s pen in the other.
Wearing Nancy’s miniskirt
she climbs into Amelia’s Electra.
With a mouthful of Penelope’s bubblegum
she blows up a biography as fiery as St. Joan’s,
then drops to the roof like Catwoman,

landing gracefully in my shiny black boots.

--Heidi Mordhorst 2011, 2014
all rights reserved

Here’s another view of boots:  see how different and yet how telling they are of identity, even empty.

Work Boots: Still Life|| Jim Daniels

Next to the screen door
work boots dry in the sun.
Salt lines map the leather
and laces droop
like the arms of a new-hire
waiting to punch out.
The shoe hangs open like the sigh
of someone too tired to speak…

Read the rest at The Poetry Foundation, and don’t miss this quite long and lovely video in which Mary Ann Hoberman reads her very first published book of children’s poetry, All My Shoes Come in Twos (1957).

I’m grateful to Laura for giving me this opportunity to contribute to her NPM project, and for the chance to develop my ideas about a clothing memoir-in-verse. And look:  here I am in my current favorite boots, wearing a favorite scarf that Laura knitted for me!  I hope I look formidable but fun—that’s the poet identity I’m always going for.


Heidi Mordhorst is the author of two collections of poetry for children:  Squeeze: Poems from a Juicy Universe (2005) and Pumpkin Butterfly: Poems from the Other Side of Nature (2009).  She lives with her family in Montgomery County, MD, where she teaches full-time and blogs at the crossroads of poetry and kindergarten.  She enjoys spending more time than is strictly necessary thinking about what to wear where and when.

Heidi, thank you for such a rich post. When I came up with the theme of poetry about clothing, I intended to explore clothes as symbols. As we have seen in this series, clothing is often handed down or negotiated over in families. I like how you bring up clothing as a personal statement. Yes!

Have you ever had an outfit that made you feel like a super hero? Or a pair of boots that, whenever you wore them, made you feel powerful? Whether it's a lucky shirt or a pair of jeans that fits you to perfection, write about a piece of clothing that makes (or made) you feel like you could take on the world.

Send your poems any time. I'll post original work and recommended poems on Friday.


Irene Latham said...

Heidi, formidable but fun! I love this letter to Mom and especially the pink boots in Munich (I was just there!). I read somewhere recently that we have 5 skins... the 2nd skin is our clothing. Thank you both for this thoughtful post! xo

Robyn Campbell said...

What a fun, friendly post! Hahaha, I did Mary Ann's I Like Old Clothes. I wear cowboy boots MOST of the time although right now I'm in flip flops. Boots can be a window into a person's identity. Love your picture. You definitely look formidable but fun. Aced the poet identity. :-) What a

Robyn Campbell said...

Hmm, not sure why I didn't finish the sentence. I meant what an excellent poet existence to have.

Tabatha said...

Suddenly I want a pair of pink suede cowboy boots! What a loving letter to your mom :-)

I like "they’re a shiny black mask for my feet." You explain the power of fashion so well. (And yay for poems that mention St. Joan :-))

Linda B said...

I had green cowboy boots once upon a time, & now that my son & family live in Texas, they continue to urge me to find a new pair that I would love. Lots in Colorado do wear them, but they don't seem to to be an utter requirement like in Texas. It's great you're doing a memoir, about clothing, in verse. I know from all these details it will be humorous, versatile, & certainly full of style! Thanks Heidi!

Ruth said...

Definitely formidable but fun! I loved this post!

Robyn Hood Black said...

Loved your boots poem when I first read it, Heidi - and I cracked up at some of the familiar "milestone" clothes you mentioned. Oh, the peasant tops - and I still have a peasant-y looking tunic or two in my closet. I hate saying goodbye to boots in spring - they are my go-to identity articles of clothing, too - ;0) I asked for a pair of boots about the time I started kindergarten myself, and I've loved them ever since.

Heidi Mordhorst said...

Thanks, friends--glad you enjoyed it! Laura's superhero power prompt is very "fitting." :P

Diane Mayr said...

Great post, Heidi! I had a pair of black plastic patent leather boots that made me feel glamorous about forty years ago. Now I go for boots that don't leak and fit over the cankles I've developed over the same period.

Buffy Silverman said...

This prompt was clearly meant for you, Heidi! Thanks for sharing your wonderful letter to your mom and your boots poem!

Catherine Johnson said...

Love your boots poem, Heidi. So vibrant! The other poem is lovely to read too. Your outfit rocks, this subject really suits you. I forgot all about my crazy bright rubber boots too.