On the Slates and In a Shoe

A white, rectangular box. A man’s worn shoe, size 11. A roll of money tucked just inside. Is this a book of poetry?

Maybe. I’m sitting in a hot classroom, looking down at a creation by the Flockaphobic Press. The goal of their work is to give poetry a physical form, one that the user interacts with, laughs at, and ultimately experiences in a way entirely different from just reading a piece on paper.

This work, called On The Slates was designed by A.S.C. Rower and contains the 29-part poem of the same title by Clark Coolidge rolled up inside a dollar bill. (See it peeking out of the dollar bill in the photo?) The humor present in other of Flockaphobic’s pieces is not entirely apparent (a poem in a wine bottle you must uncork to read, another one printed on pasta) and I have trouble getting a sense of why Coolidge’s poem is being stored in a shoe.

I read the poem, but all I get is some well-worded chaos: “Bright? Slates? Is it bright on the slates, or noble in the minds? Was it then, a slab that’s but a fossil passed beneath clouds?”

I read and read again, this 29-part poem. It does mention a shoe, but nothing substantial enough to provide any meaning.

Perhaps then, it is the chaos that offers us an explanation for the piece. To me a man who keeps a roll of money in his shoe is careful, distrustful of the world. The soles of these shoes are worn through to the nails and the label has been rubbed off. Maybe within this careful man’s shoe is stored the calamity of the world. The physical manifestation, this oddball “book” of poetry, is careful and controlled, but rolled up inside is still that same calamity of poetry—the difference for the reader, however, is that Flockaphobic makes you physically interact with that furled up confusion.

Clark Coolidge, On the Slates (New York, Flockaphobic Press, 1992). Image Courtesy of Sheridan Libraries, Johns Hopkins University

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