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Todd Boss’s verse is spare, taut, and permeated with love.

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Poetry books often seem guilty of false advertising because the rave reviews on the dust jacket don’t match the writing inside. Then a collection like Yellowrocket comes along and readers are reminded just how good poetry can be.

Todd Boss’s work is a lot like the plant after which it is named: Both thrive in bare, disturbed soil and produce bright blooms even after repeated mowings. Yet while one “stained the palms/ and reeked when/ you pulled it,” the other leaves an invisible mark that makes the reader feel vibrant and alive.

Boss achieves that feat by balancing raw beauty with traditionally poetic topics: growing up on a farm, marriage, and fatherhood.

The “soil” he tills – the human heart – could easily produce saccharin, trite verse. Instead, Boss’s writing aches with subtle music, insight, and clearsighted compassion.

Or, as he says, “call it love,/ but if you call it love,/ call it a love that/ persisted.”

That love permeates every poem, as does Boss’s attention to detail. He sees what others often miss, as in “Wood Burning,” where he describes his hard-working father

opening the cold
and stubborn iron heart of the house,
turning the fact of
newsprint and tinder
into a kind of prayer
for our warming –
his first tender act
of the morning.

Any subject – a sleeping child, trees, mannequins in a dress shop – can spark imagery so apt and surprising that the words seem to shimmer. Take, for example, these lines from “The Day is Gray and the Lake”:

shifts, mercurial,
like modeling clay,

the million thumbs
of wind at work upon it,

the artist unable to come
to a single conclusion.

Just what shape should
this cold lake take

this morning?


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