HE READS WITH THE CADENCE of a seasoned poet, with the ease of familiarity, written words fitting his voice like a comfortable pair of boots.
Which is exactly what award-winning St. Paul poet Todd Boss sported, along with faded jeans and a long-sleeved plaid shirt, to a “Poets at the Library Tour” event Tuesday evening at the Owatonna Public Library.
Casual, laid back and unpretentious, Boss settled in to read from his poetry books, Yellowrocket and Pitch, Minnesota Book Award finalists in 2009 and 2013 respectively.
Before reading a poem set in Luckenbach, Texas, Boss shared that a woman from New York wants to include him in a dissertation she’s writing on cowboy poetry. He showed off his cowboy boots, then laughed. The audience laughed, too. While Boss often writes about his rural Wisconsin upbringing, he isn’t exactly a cowboy poet. Audience members agreed with Boss that Wisconsinites and Minnesotans live on farms, not ranches, defined by this poet as big open landscapes of earthy hues.
Later he referenced the New York perspective again: “My mother used to read a lot of poetry on the ranch.” Ranch. A carefully chosen word. Just like the words in his detailed and rhythm rich poems.
Boss read poetry about card playing, wood piles, his mother, an exchange with a check-out clerk at a Minneapolis food co-op, the 35W bridge collapse…
He revealed, too, that when he writes about his parents, he gives them the option of nixing those personal poems. They never have, a point audience members noted as respectful—of Boss in asking and of his parents in respecting his work.
Boss is that kind of caring guy. After listening to audience members read poetry before his presentation, he thanked them, defining their readings as “a little bit like overhearing people’s prayers…things they’re worried about.”
He’s genuine and honest enough to admit that he doesn’t write every day, but that he should and that he’s sometimes lazy about writing.
And, yes, he actually earns a living writing poetry; touring the state and country reading poetry; collaborating on his grant-funded motionpoems; and, most recently, undertaking a public art project, an art/poetry installation on the five-year anniversary of the 35W bridge collapse.
He’s a farm boy from Wisconsin now living in the big city, but still strongly connected to his rural roots via his poetry.
If Tuesday’s event had been held at a ranch, instead of the third floor of a public library, audience members would have gathered around the campfire to hear Boss, cowboy boots resting on a chunk of wood, strumming his not-exactly-cowboy-poetry rhythmic poetry.
FYI: In addition to publishing two books of poetry, Boss works with animator/producer Angella Kassube on producing motionpoems, which “turn contemporary American poems into short films. To learn more about this grant-supported non-profit project, click here.
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