A Lesson in Odes

A Lesson in Odes

by Laura Shovan

[dropcap]O[/dropcap]des are all about tone. Show enough enthusiasm for even a simple object like a shoe, and a poet can convince the reader of the object’s value, that it’s worthy of attention. That is what Chilean poet Pablo Neruda did with his Odes to Common Things, a book which still influences poets today.

Recently, I was was working with third grade poets at Northfield Elementary, a diverse school located in Ellicott City, Maryland, a suburb of Baltimore, and one of our workshops was writing odes.

We began the lesson by addressing the elevated language in Keats’ “Ode on Grecian Urn.”  I asked my students what might happen if we used the same language for everyday objects. For example, in  Odes to Simple Things Pablo Neruda includes odes to a tomato, his socks, and laziness. We then turned to Gary Soto’s modern “Ode to Pablo’s Tennis Shoes.” The students noticed that the character of Pablo isn’t described directly in Soto’s poem. We get our information about him through his beaten-up, grass-stained shoes.

Because I like to give younger writers something concrete to write about, we all took off a shoe in order to try actually writing an ode. We created a simile for what it looks like (fast animals are great for sneakers). We thought about places where we have been, or dream of going, in our shoes.

Here are shoe odes from third grade poets Ilana M., Nicole C., Dylan L., Linnea J., and Ben K. Thanks to the poets and their families for giving me permission to share these odes:

Ode to the Shoes

My shoes look as bright as
a shooting star in the midnight sky.
And they smell as minty as my
breath used to be.

When I wear them, they feel
as velvety as a dove’s feathers.
When I walk, the
sound reminds me of my friend knocking
on my door on a summer day.

I go to school in my
shoes, where we learn our knowledge.
They bring fun and joy
to my day, which I can’t
live without.

—Ilana M.

“The sound reminds me of a friend knocking on my door on a summer day” — I love the way this line suggests that Ilana’s shoes are taking her to a place filled with fun and friendship.

My Shoe

Oh shoe, you are like nature on a bright
sunny day. You smell like a garbage truck on a
hot summer day and feel like a puffy cloud. You
were with me when I did a front
handspring for the first time. That was a good
moment. If you didn’t travel from Vietnam,
I would have to wear other shoes that are
7 out of 10. In the halls, you sound like a
stealth ninja and deadly silent.

—Nicole C.


Ode to My Shoes

Oh, shoes, I couldn’t live without
you. The bottom looks like a relief
map. It smells like a newly caught
fish wrapped in seaweed. It feels like a
scaly lizard on the outside and
a rubber mat on the inside. When I
run, I’m like a stealth dragon going
100 miles per hour. If I didn’t have
my shoes, I would never be able to
jump 2 ½ foot hurdles and I’d get hurt
a million times a day without my

—Dylan L.

Dylan, that is a vivid smell simile. I can picture it in my mind.

Ode to My Shoes

Shoes, you are as purple as freshly grown lilacs.
You look as good as new, though you are over a year old.
Your colors is still bright,
And your bottoms are still smoothly patterned.
And you smell like those lilacs too.
You are as quiet as breaking down.
You stop my feet from making noises,
Like squeaking, squelching, bumping, and stomping.
You are smooth and warm inside,
Just like new, unwrinkled cloth that is cushy.
You still have all of your wondrous feelings.
In some places you are as smooth as silk,
And in others,
You are as rough and bumpy as a very old blanket.
In you, I have run and won many races,
And you helped me a lot the whole way.
I’ve gone to fun places,
Like amusement parks and water parks and playgrounds,
And we had fun together the whole time.
I could not live without you because you take me everywhere.
My feet would be sore without you,
And I couldn’t run.
You keep my feet comfortable inside you.
I don’t know what my life would be like without you.
You make me happy.

—Linnea J.

Great use of onomatopoeia words in Linnea’s poem: “squeaking, squelching, bumping, and stomping.”

Ode to Ben’s Shoes

My should look like a red devil
And they let me run as fast as a cheetah. My shoe
Feels like a fun trampoline so they
Make me jump high. My shoe sounds
Like the “click” of a teacher
Writing on the chalkboard. Whenever I go
To recess, my shoes are covered in gravel
As if I just climbed a mountain with
No snow. I can’t live without my shoes
Because my shoes are my feet’s
Best friends.

—Ben K.

Ben’s class especially loved the line, “My shoes are covered in gravel as if I just climbed a mountain with no snow.” Can’t you picture it?

More odes to shoes.

Laura Shovan is poetry editor for Little Patuxent Review. Her chapbook, Mountain, Log, Salt and Stone, won the Harriss Poetry Prize. Laura is a Maryland State Arts Council Artist-in-Residence. Her novel-in-verse for children, The Last Fifth Grade of Emerson Elementary, debuts in spring, 2016 (Wendy Lamb Books/Random House). Her blog is here.


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