Performance poet to read at Prairie Lights

BY ERIC ANDERSEN | JULY 16, 2009 7:15 AM

When considering a poetry reading, a high-energy performance doesn’t usually comes to mind, unless you’re familiar with Britain’s John Hartley Williams and the Blood Axe poets.

But for poet Todd Boss, the live show is just as important as the writing.

“I think poetry is a performance art, instead of a literary one,” he said. “When people hear me read, they kind of catch fire, and it’s really a thrill. People say my poetry readings are unlike any other poetry reading they have been to.”

He will visit Prairie Lights Books, 15 S. Dubuque St., at 7 p.m. today to read from his début award-winning collection Yellowrocket. The book — which was chosen by Virginia Quarterly Review as one of 2008’s 10-best poetry books — explores topics that hit close to home, including growing up in rural Wisconsin, marital struggles, and everyday life.

“If it’s not personal to me, then it’s not urgent or necessary, and I think the reader senses all those things,” Boss said. “That’s what makes a poet so fresh and is what’s missing from so much poetry that’s out there. I write [poetry] because there’s so much of it I hate reading.”

He grew up on a farm in Wisconsin where he did lots of hard labor, which he writes about in Yellowrocket. The poet said driving through Iowa makes him feel right at home — which isn’t necessarily a good thing.

“Growing up on a farm was really hard, and I hated it,” he said. “I wanted to be a town kid, because all the cool kids I knew were from the city. So I resented it and complained all the time. I was just an asshole.”

Another recurring topic in Yellowrocket is the author’s marriage, which he describes as turbulent. Boss has been married for 16 years, but he said each day can be a struggle.

“We love each other, but we’re very different, so we sort of feed off of the difference and get into arguments,” he said. “Ultimately, it’s all healthy.”

The struggle of relationships in daily life is a theme that the author explores not just in marriage but through his relationship with God.

I’m not a religious person, and I use God as shorthand for, well, I don’t know what it is,” Boss said. “I see God as a very complex and conflicted character … think he wants to be struggled with.”

Although he has seen critical success after publishing only one collection of poetry, he doesn’t find writing to be an easy feat.

“It’s really frickin’ hard, you know,” he said. “I mean, it’s kind of like having 300 children and having to choose 20 of them to go on to college, while leaving all the rest behind.”

As tough as the poetry business is, Boss is not discouraged. The writer recently finished his second collection of poetry, Fugue, and he is waiting to hear from the publisher.

“Right now, I’m taking about a year just to tour around with the book, put out my second one, and just write like a son of a bitch,” Boss said.

An excerpt from Yellowrocket, by Todd Boss:

“Worst Work”

God wrote a poem about me,
which should have been flattering,
but He let me read it,
and it was awful.
And what was I going to say?
Far be it from me to hurt God’s feelings.
“Hey,” I said, “that’s pretty good.”
Well, it wasn’t completely untrue.
What a bad word, good,
where creation is concerned.
I guess I might have given
the great provocateur a fight,
but I know too much
about the art of making art.
I owe it to my faith to give the old fart
the benefit of the doubt.
It’s hard to write a poem
about someone you love.
for one thing. And for another,
it’s hard to take a lesson from
your own worst work.

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