Poetry for the head and the heart: St. Paul poet Todd Boss delights with serious play in his resonant second collection.
In "It Is Enough to Enter," the opening poem of "Pitch," Todd Boss writes, "You don't have to / understand / the liturgy or know history / to feel holy / in a gallery or presbytery."
While the poem cites "the templar / halls of museums" and "chambers of churches," it also reveals something about Boss' attitude toward poetry: that you need nothing more than your head and your heart to appreciate it.
Boss, who grew up on a cattle farm in Wisconsin and now lives in St. Paul, has been working to expand the audience for poetry by chipping away at the idea that it's an elite art for those with academic training. To that end, he helped found and now co-directs Motionpoems, a nonprofit initiative that creates animated shorts based on contemporary poems in order to help them garner a wider audience.
His own work also makes a compelling case for poetry's appeal; the poems of "Pitch" are a lot of fun to read. He often uses short lines (one to six syllables) so that the lines and sentences work out of step. This creates an idiosyncratic rhythm that allows for delightful surprises. For example, one speaker describes his wife as laid out on the bed "like a spread of bone / china," and another declares, "One day the doctor tells you that you're blind / to the truth."
The emphasis on rhythm and surprise rhymes tempt the reader to read out loud. For example, in "Marble Tumble Toys," Boss writes, "And / even a tin ear / for music / can appreciate / the kilter / clavier tickle, / the zig- / zag and fickle / clock- / work of a cat's / eye."
The poem's typography mimics the toy he describes, causing the reader's eye to bounce back and forth like a marble working its way down the contraption.
Boss writes, "There must / be something / powerful / at work in / such play." And indeed there is. This poem is about more than Boss' virtuosity with wordplay, it's also a love poem -- one about how love requires careful "calibration" of "give / and take."
In "Overtures on an Overturned Piano," the speaker's father is hauling a precious turn-of-the-century piano that belonged to his granduncle and takes a turn too quickly. The piano flies into the snow "where it lay, / moaning chaotically," but "miraculously / intact." The scene contains "gravity / and levity alike," a compelling combination that marks Boss' work.
As the piano plays its own beautiful, strange tune while lying in the snow, so, too, do Boss' poems generate their own rambunctious music and remind us "yes, / miracles happen."
Elizabeth Hoover is a poet and writer in Pittsburgh.