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editor's note: this interview and post was created by isabelle conner, new addition to the scarpa troops!

Lisa in Pavilion VII at The University of Virginia

13 Questions with Poet Lisa Spaar


Lisa Spaar is a poet at the University of Virginia. She is the author of many collections of poetry, including the forthcoming Vanitas, Rough in December 2012.  Spaar has also edited a number of poetry anthologies; most recently she compiled The Hide and Seek Muse: Annotations in Contemporary Poetry, which is expected to be published in March 2013. She has lived in Charlottesville since 1974, when she was a first-year at UVA, with the exception of a “purgatorial stint” in Denton, Texas in the 1980’s, and has shopped at Scarpa since it opened in 1994.

Who are you? What do you do?

Today I feel like a very special person because I’ve been asked to complete this profile for Amy Gardner and Scarpa.  I’ve been in Charlottesville long enough to remember when a few of the only “good” places to eat were The Aberdeen Barn (formerly the Angus Barn), Howard Johnson’s, Ken Johnson’s Cafeteria, and the University Cafeteria (also the Gaslight, in various incarnations).  When a Chinese restaurant opened way out on Fontaine Avenue, all of the Berkeley transplanted academics and foodies flocked to it.  The opening of Scarpa was like that.  It was like the opening of the C&O Restaurant.  It gave those of us with a shoe fetish an option to H&M and Leggett’s; it meant we didn’t have to drive to Richmond or DC for a good pair of shoes.  It’s easier to get all kinds of shoes on-line now, but I remain devoted to Scarpa, Eloise, Finch, Cha-Cha’s, Pearl (formerly The Phoenix), all the locally owned shops and restaurants.  I am also a university professor and a poet, and the mother of three beautiful grown children.


How long have you shopped at Scarpa?

Since they opened their doors in 1994.  We were a shoe-starved town before Amy brought us foot couture, and I was so dizzy with excitement that at first I made weekly visits.  I began writing “Kroger” instead of “Scarpa” in the checkbook register to hide my addiction.  I think I’m finally under control.


Do you have any pieces of clothing (or a pair of shoes) that you're particularly drawn to this fall? 

I’ve loved pencil skirts ever since I followed my mother around in hers in the 1950s (tweeds, kick pleats, pumps, all in a waft of Arpège),  and it’s fun to find them in so many colors and textures this season.  I’m also attracted to drop-waist, 20s-style winter dresses in fabrics like gabardine (think Zelda meets Virginia Woolf) with heeled black oxfords.  Thick black tights are a must; I’ve been addicted to them since elementary school. Wrap dresses seem to never go out of style, and I still have a Diane von Furstenberg dress I bought at Levy’s in the 1970s on my student work-study budget.  I had to eat pancake mix (these were pre-Ramen noodle days) for a couple of months afterwards to pay for it, but it was worth it. Lately I’ve been digging out my old clothes from the attic and making them new, to paraphrase Ezra Pound.  I’ve noticed that my students all seem to be wearing neon running shoes in a hallucinatory array of colors.  . . .


Did you have a favorite pair of shoes as a child? 

Yes.  As a little girl I had a pair of red t-strap sandals with polka dot and tear-shaped cut-outs on the round toes, through which my white anklets winked at me as I walked the two blocks to kindergarten.  A little later, in fifth grade, I received a pair of white leather Go-Go boots.  I’m sure they’re now in a landfill in New Jersey, but I wish I still had them.  There’s a photo of me somewhere, in black and white, dancing “the Pony” in them in my nightgown on Christmas morning.


Guilty pleasure / indulgence?

Scarpa!  A big squat bottle of Hendricks gin.  Streaming in episodes of Weeds on my computer when I should be reading and commenting on student work. . . .


Do you have a style icon?

My daughters.  They could wear paper bags and be stunning. 


Any type of fabric that you're drawn to in your poems? Do you have a favorite pattern?

My mother was an amazing seamstress; she could make anything without a pattern and could do fine tailoring, so I grew up going to magical mill-end and fabric stores.  Bobbins, notions, needles, sizing, tape measures, pattern tissue, pin cushions, bolts of Egyptian cotton, wool, dotted swiss, crepe, silk, the sound of the Singer at all hours of the day and night  . . . and so I realize, now that you mention it, that I do use fabric imagery in my poems, to describe a patch of sky, a waver of light on the water. . . . .  I am not a fan of animal prints.  I like paisley.


Favorite purchase at Scarpa?

Very hard call.  Probably two pairs of Robert Clergerie shoes, one a wedge, one a low-heeled pump, and the other a slip-on Yves Saint Laurent with gem medallion, both vintage 1990s.  I’m waiting for one of my daughters to discover them and spirit them away . . . .


If we dumped out your bag on your kitchen table, what would we find? 

Map of London.  Arrowheads from the banks of the Rancocas River in South Jersey.  Tall floor lamp with blowsy shade (think Mary Poppins).  Corkscrew.  Collected works of George Sand.  Red maple leaves. Emily Dickinson’s Master Letters.  Kitchen sink.


Do all poets wear black? 

Yes.  And blue.


Describe your perfect day in Charlottesville.

The perfect day is any day all three of my children are at home.  Add to this delight any combination of walks, talks, fires, meals, movies at the house, and time for solitude for everyone—the garden, reading, drawing, maybe even writing . . .


Is there anything you've never been asked but would like to answer? 


Q:  How is a poem like a shoe?

A:  It holds up a cosmos.  Molds to the shape of its wearer.   Comes in all shapes and sizes.  It can sit in a dark closet for a long while and still speak to us—of former lives, of the seasons, of the future.  It can become an addiction, a site of projection, an ego booster, a trusted favorite.  It has a life, a perfume, of its own.   It keeps us, as Whitman says, “afoot with our vision.”


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