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This article is taken from PN Review 252, Volume 46 Number 4, March - April 2020.

Pictures from the Rylands Library
49. Worn Worlds: The Poetry of Adam Johnson’s Baby Shoes
Stella Halkyard
Baby Shoes: Not for Sale. Worn Many Times. The original blue of their early 1960s hue has faded to grey and ‘the constancy of [a] human presence permeates every surface’ (Neruda). Shoes, as Derrida observes, ‘both shape and are shaped by the body; they take in oils and the smells of the body’ and yet shoes ‘have a life of their own; they are material presences and they encode other material and immaterial presences… and can transform identities’ (Peter Stallybrass). Through use, clothing becomes ‘singularised [and] bears the stamp of the individuality and everyday experience of its owner’ (Sheila Harpur). In receiving the imprint of a human being, albeit at an embryonic stage in its life cycle (as in the case here), we see how a mass produced commodity can be transformed into vibrant matter, and radiate ‘a magnetism that should not be scorned [for] this is the poetry we are seeking’ (Neruda).

Baby shoes, c.1963, Adam Johnson Papers AJP/6/1

Neruda’s ‘poetry of the worn and permeated surface’ was not a subject lost on Adam Johnson, one of the most promising poets of his generation, who became the author of a series of critically acclaimed collections of poetry, including: Poems (1992), The Spiral Staircase (1993), The Playground Bell (1994) and Collected Poems (2003). Reputedly a snappy dresser, he often favoured ‘white suits and bow ties he never learnt to tie’, as shown in the photo here. His ‘high-cheeked, matinée-idol good looks were well known on the poetry circuit’ (Hugh David). He ...

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