New Year Poetry Marathon Reading to be held in Montclair, 2014, by Gwen Orel, The Montclair Times
Although Boss had her first poem published at age 6, she never thought of it as a profession, adding “I can’t in all conscience tell someone to be a freelance poet. It’s not a way to make a living, unless you get a job at a university.”
But she doesn’t think poetry is going away any time soon.
“I feel very optimistic about writing. Poetry serves a purpose no other genre does in literature. It’s the only one that deals with our feelings. Every good poem starts with some strong feeling. Most poems deal with love, loss, loss of relationship, loss of one’s youth… it captures it in a way that is different from other forms of literature. It transcends the individual poem. It’s a microcosm.”
Dodge Poet Spotlight: Laura Boss, 2013 by Rebecca Gambale
Tell us about your favorite experience reading for an audience.
More than twenty years ago I was lucky enough to be the sole representative of the United States at the XXVI Annual International Struga Poetry Readings in Europe. I remember getting up to read and seeing almost 4,000 people in the audience. But what I especially liked (once the butterflies in my stomach had fluttered away) was that the audience was not just poets, as so often happens in our country, but couples out on dates, husbands and wives with children in tow, professors, and blue-collar workers all expressing a love of going out for an evening of poetry. I saw that again on a smaller scale when I read in Dublin and in 2011 in Wales where even the taxi driver recited poetry to me For me when reading, it’s exhilarating to have poetry be such a part of a country.
Laura Boss reads “The Astronomer,” “Perfect Circles” and “Matching Urns”
FLASHLIGHT (Guernica-Essential Poets Series)
Reviewed by Cindy Hochman
Although it is not politically correct (or nice) to argue with our literary forebears, it can be said that Laura Boss’ latest collection flies in the face’ of Emily Dickinson’s edict to “tell all the truth but , tell it slant.” While poetry, by its nature, involves dabbling in a bit of nuanced storytelling, Boss’ I poems seem to thrive on their lack of embellishment-and there’s a lot to be said for unvarnished candor!
Reading Laura Boss is akin to spending quality time with a dutiful daughter, benevolent neighbor, protective mother, and proud but heartbroken grandmother. But no one should confuse accessibility with banality-beyond these familial incarnations lies the voice of an important contemporary female poet who, with all due respect to Emily, is not afraid to empty a whole purse full of unslanted truths.
Despite their surface placidity, these poems are hardly devoid of turbulence, so it is fitting that FLASHLIGHT begins with a perilous flight in a single-engine plane, piloted by the poet’s teenager son:
I did not want to be in this plane,
but it was just after I had separated
from his father, and my guilt was
making me try to please this son
I had so displeased by leaving his father
Having landed safely on terra firma, the poet opines that: “good intentions, guilt, and yes, even love, cannot always keep one airborne.” Wisdom such as this, sprinkled liberally and lovingly throughout the book, seems less didactic than hard-won. Coming from Laura Boss’ lips, the truth soars, and comes back heroic.
There is much depth to these plainspoken narratives, in which relevant issues are tackled and resolved. Just like the bridge that connects New York to Boss’ hometown in New Jersey, the poet bridges the gap between her rather traditional coming-of-age and the ushering in of modernity, effectively capturing the sociological zeitgeists of then and now, and focusing particularly on the perplexities of evolving gender roles. This sets up a host of compelling dichotomies: good girl vs. bad girl, sensible vs. flighty, rich vs. poor-Boss’ life experiences seem to be an amalgam of these polar opposites. In such poems as “I Wanted To Go To Princeton.” the titles themselves evidence a resigned lament, and one can readily detect the dilemma of societal expectations and limitations.
And so my brother did what he was supposed to do-
earned his full scholarship to Rutgers, became a
Henry Rutgers Scholar along with his classmate
Robert Pinsky who was “good in English”
according to my brother—
And I married the son of one of the wealthiest
Jewish men in
Passaic County—something I was supposed to do—
In this case, the “something I was supposed to do” is. the operative phrase-Laura Boss does not buck the system, she simply waits for it to shift to a more desirable norm-and when the times do change, she is ready to embrace them. It is a delightful paradox that, despite a decided befuddlement over the sexual revolution, the staid proclamation that “of course I was a virgin when I got married” morphs into the liberated passion of the AARP set:
Yes, what would it be like to make love
as we used to—Would he suddenly
gasp for breath thrusting in lust
and climax with a heart attack—
And how would I greet the EMS workers—
this senior citizen in thigh high stockings
holding a slipping sheet around her for modesty—
the peek-a-boo red satin bra partly showing
Under Boss’ skilled band, this brand of sexual playfulness moves effortlessly from the boudoir to the kitchen, and it is no accident that the poet employs a large, iconic symbol of domestic trappings (to wit, her refrigerator) to highlight the universal conundrum of loneliness:
Look at me
Put your hands on my door handle
Open me up—
Fill me with cantaloupes, avocados, half and half,
Meatloaf, and peach pie
Visit me often
Put your hands inside me again
At the heart of this book is a rich, three-dimensional portraiture of the nuclear family. This is where the poet is at her most urgent and altruistic, and where the poems take unexpected detours-amidst an atmosphere of equal parts chaos and calm, everyday events take a turn for the absurd. For instance, in the poem “It’s the First Night of Passover”:
It’s the first night of Passover
and I don’t have much in my freezer
except a dead dog …
And my son believes in Cryptogenics and has
had his dog
solidified in the necessary chemicals to do this
Somehow his presence in my freezer takes away my
not only for Passover dinner but also for any food—
especially something cold.
One gets the sense that the poet, no matter how ardently she strives for a home life free from drama, is destined instead for normalcy gone awry. Hence, this book contains an underbelly of quirk and neurosis, giving some of the poems a somewhat sinister, or at the least, disquieting, bent. But the poems are not bitter, or maudlin, nor do they rely on shock value. Even in the wake of some discomfiting scenarios, the poet maintains a good-natured, upbeat, roll-with-the-punches comportment, stoically believing that, in the end, all will be “good and safe and shining.”
Notwithstanding the hearth-and-home themes which characterize this collection, Laura Boss, by her own admission, “can’t knit or sew or even fry eggs”— that is to say, she has a higher calling: she is a dedicated practitioner of the art of poetry. In FLASHLIGHT, a powerful combination of honesty and compassion trump domesticity, and for this, Laura Boss’ readers can be grateful.