“Writing novels, to me, is basically a kind of manual labor. Writing itself is mental labor, but finishing an entire book is closer to manual labor.” – Haruki Murakami
Van Gogh’s Pair of Shoes struck me the moment I saw it several years ago at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. The beat up old shoes told a story. Story was that Van Gogh bought them at a flea market and wore them on a long walk in the rain before he painted them so they would look worn and beaten. The image stuck with me, like I knew I would one day do something with it, I just didn’t know what.
Fast forward a few years, and I was given an assignment to write a poem about a still life. I decided to hammer out a poem about Van Gogh’s shoes, but it just wasn’t working. Sometimes I find the best way to progress a story or poem is to get away from it and get busy doing something else, so I went to a house my wife and I are rehabbing and tiled the bathroom. I changed my clothes after I got done tiling and when I turned and saw my work boots, it was suddenly easy to imagine the story of Van Gogh’s shoes. The verses began to flow–where the shoes had been, the type of day the person who wore them had, his challenges, what he’d accomplished, how his muscles felt.
Now I can see why Van Gogh took that long walk in the rain before he sat down at the blank canvas.