A continuing tale of life in the boonies

No. 312

Poets who matter: No. 19 – Mr. Ramgunshoch


FARMINGTON - It’s been almost a year since we last visited Farmington Corner’s poetry series. Back in January, Rochester had received half a dozen applications from hopefuls seeking to be the city’s Poet Laureate, and from that clutch, the selection committee appointed Andrew Periale, who was duly crowned with a laurel halo in Council Chambers.

This is the same Periale, for long-time readers of Farmington Corner, who got embroiled in a bitter poetry contest with Mr. Ramgunshoch at a Rabbie Burns Supper in 2002, the one that resulted in a very begrudged tie and the wary divvying up of the prize, a bottle of Glenlivet. (See FC No. 275)

Anyway, over a hamburger in downtown Rochester the other evening, Andrew was talking with former state poet laureate Marie Harris (herself a Burns Supper survivor) and me about his major project as poet laureate. After we talked him out of his original idea, Andrew mentioned that he was also involved with Art Esprit, a parcel of the area’s artistic elite.

Art Esprit, revealed Poet Periale, is planning to sculpt and paint 10 enormous pieces of footwear - a dancing pump, a sneaker, a boot  - and lower them onto prominent downtown spots as a reminder of Rochester’s shoe manufacturing past, and as a tourist attraction to rival Lake Winnipesaukee and the White Mountains. They will be made from concrete, and heavy enough not to be dragged away and dumped into the Cocheco by a ne’er-do-well faction of the citizenry.

Marie and I interjected that Andrew might build upon this idea and introduce a poetic element. I further pondered what would happen if the sidewalk snowplow dinged a piece of concrete out of a shoe, when passing ... but more of that, later.

Poet Periale said that a poetic aspect has already been incorporated into the giant shoe project, with a pole soaring above each specimen, to which will be attached a poem relevant to the footwear below. Each commissioned poet will receive $100 from a fund being established.

“Exciting stuff,” I told Mr. Ramgunshoch, just as soon as I got back to Farmington that night.

“Och, aye,’ responded the old Scottish grump, caustically. “Ah can just imagine the type of poetry ye’ll get frae that lily-white-hand crowd about life in a sweat shop.”

“Andrew Periale doesn’t have lily white hands,” I protested. “He splits his own wood.”

“Pshaw!” spat Ramgunshoch. He was still not over his feud with the poet laureate. “Ah’ll dig oot some shoe poems, but ye’ll never see them stuck up a pole in Rochester. They’re no twee enough.”

When I called by old Ramgunshoch’s bothan the next day, he handed me a sheet of paper on which were lines that he claimed were brand new, and written with Rochester’s giant tourist attractions in mind:


Tae a 1970s brogan


Here’s a health, o sculptured shoe,

For years, I made the likes o’ you,

Cutting leather, piercin’, stitching,

Sufferin’ the foreman’s bitchin,’

Stashin’ awa the toxic glue,

Afore the OSHA man came through,

But quietly on the side, petitionin’

For him tae mandate air-conditionin’.

Fat chance … whene’er the stench was bad,

‘twas, “Open wide yon window, lad.”

And so, dear shoe, I wish ye well,

Let Third World sweatshops thole yer smell.


I skimmed over the lines and tossed the sheet back

“That’s no good. You’ve completely failed to capture the pride in the breast of a shoe shop worker. Where’s the quiet satisfaction of a job well done? How would that rubbish endear tourists to Rochester?” I asked Ramgunshoch.

“Listen Mac! They had tae demolish the old Al-Gor shoe factory in Rochester, rather than rehab it, because of the chemicals in the timbers. Does that sound like a place that was guid for a body?” said Ramgunshoch, waxing annoyed. “But if it’s la-di-da stuff that impresses ye, try this.”


Imelda Marcos’s favorite things


No heels and low heels and high-heeled stilettos,

Chic, saucy sandals for rainy day wet toes,

Doc Martins, Doc Scholls and deck wedge for a cruise,

These are a few of my favorite shoes.


Sling-backs and slippers and sabots and loafers

“Bring fifty choices,” I order the gophers,

Birkenstocks, ballet pumps … What’s on the news?

Revolt? Oh, mon Dieu! I must flee with my shoes!


“Well, that was a bit better. It showed some early promise, but then finished on an abrasive note about the Philippines uprising. We don’t need to remind our blue-collar population, with hard times upon us, about peasants with pitchforks. Not when the business sector is being asked to finance this sculpture project,” I told Ramgunshoch

He flashed a look of defiance, and pushed another sheet of paper over the kitchen table.


A working boot’s sonnet


I am a boot, a working boot,

My job is to protect the foot -

Tho’ not the toes of prissy jogger,

Nor doctor, banker, pettifogger,

But the likes of cordwood logger,

And any other kindred slogger.


The virtues of a steel toecap,

Are lost upon the office chap,

I often breeze though farmyard crap,

And oil, and grease, and metal scrap.


If you require shoes to look cute,

Or match a hoity-toity suit,

And, seeing me, turn up your snoot -

This tough galoot don’t give hoot,

I’m happy as a working boot,

I earn the laborin’ man’s salute.


“Still absolutely inappropriate in tone,” I had to tell him. “That boot has a chip on its shoulder and seems to be harboring a resentment of society’s upper echelons. Can’t you come up with a heroic poem or some harmless, mellow schmaltz? Better yet, enigmatic verse. That always goes down well with the artsy crowd. How about verses stuffed with hidden meanings and metaphors for life’s joyous struggle? Tourists who read these poems should feel delighted enough to hang around downtown and buy lunch, not jump in their SUVs and race for the comfort of Wolfeboro.”

Ramgunshoch raised a contemptuous eyebrow.

“We’re talking shoes, not rainbows,” he muttered, shoving a final poem over the table.


Tae a pair o’ sneakers


Lightweight fabric insulates while still allowing feet tae breathe,

Cushion soles are coddling baith the forefoot and the heel,

Shock-dispersing miracles from carbon rubber technocrats,

Plus "scientific breakthroughs" to give idiot appeal.

Ultra-modern flying bands o’ multicolored leather that

Are stitched upon the air mesh, project energy an’ power,

Four hundred dollar price tags rake in billions for the companies,

While puir wee Bangladeshis work for 30 cents an hour. 


“That’s enough! You just can’t keep politics out of it, can you? You utterly fail to comprehend the nobility of toil and novelty value that these giant shoes will represent,” I shouted at Ramgunshoch, before taking my leave.

Back in Rochester, there was good news. Mary Jo Monusky from artstream studios, speaking for Art Esprit, revealed that the ongoing fundraising for the shoe sculpture project was meeting with success from downtown merchants. Her partner, Susan Schwake-Larochelle, also stressed that the giant footwear would not be made out of concrete, but from a composite substance.

“Of which concrete is an ingredient?” I prodded.

No, she responded the composite substance would not contain any concrete. She also noted the sculptures will appear downtown only during the summer months, and be stored over the winter, thus reducing the risk of dings from a snowplow to almost zero.

I am so excited; I can hardly wait until next June.



November 29, 2008


FCHome 5                        Previous                     Next