Interview with Editor Laura Boss
A POETIC INFLUENCE
This article originally appeared in Scrap Paper Review, Issue #29, April, 1998. Scrap Paper Review is a literary webzine published by A.D. Sullivan. When it first appeared, the piece was dated 1996. It has been revised and updated with the kind permission of the author in March, 2008.
From the poet Laura Boss' condo in the Galaxy building in Guttenberg, you can see the ships come in, from the grand old lady, the Queen Elizabeth 2, to the host of more modern cruise ships that make the Hudson River the cruise liner capital of the world. These ships and the view of the river are part of the reason Boss has lived here since 1982. Like many writers, she has deliberately sought out an environment that allows her to create -- although unlike many of the other poets from Paterson with whom she had associated, she has adopted the Hudson River as her source of inspiration.
"I like to write a lot about the Hudson River and New York," Boss said. "It is a wonderful place and I get to see more of New York City, and the river from here in Guttenberg than most people in New York get to see."
From this high up in the tower, the river looks pristine, and the boats that sail up it, glisten in the sun. Seeing the great luxury liners brings back memories, too. Although Boss is barely reaching middle age, she recalls a time when she traveled extensively, visiting more than 50 countries. Much of this has also been a source of inspiration for her writing. And yet, Boss writes a very unpretentious poetry, something that documents what she sees rather than plays effete literary games.
"I've always written what I've seen," Boss said, preferring narrative poetry -- which tells a story -- to the more figurative language games some poetry involves.
Boss might write a poem about a candy store lady that lived with her when she was young, or about the river. Yet the real reason she became a poet was to preserve some of the stories she heard during her life.
As America undergoes a poetry renaissance, Boss has her place in its history, as one of the foundations of the contemporary New Jersey poetry scene. She has won recognition on the metropolitan scene, has met and claims as friends some of the most important poets of our generation, and she has put out one of the two longest running literary magazines in New Jersey.
Along with being the founder and editor of Lips magazine, Boss was the sole representative of the United States in the 1987 Annual International Struga Poetry Readings in Macedonia. Her awards for poetry include a 1994 first prize in Poetry Society of America's Gordon Barber Poetry contest, an American Literary Translators Award, three New Jersey State Council on the Arts fellowships. Her books include Stripping (Chantry Press, 1982), On the Edge of the Hudson (Cross-Cultural Communications, 1986), which went into a second printing and bilingual editions, Reports from the Front (Cross-Cultural Communications, l995), and Arms: New & Selected Poems (Guernica Editions, l999). Her work has been included in several anthologies including Unsettling America, from Viking Press. Her poetry has also appeared in The New York Times.
Unlike many of the more avant-garde artists, Boss went through the rituals of middle class life. Although she was an English major as an undergraduate, she delayed obtaining her master's, marrying at twenty, bearing her first child at twenty-one. She lived the suburban life in North Caldwell, always struggling with the idea that she would someday get back to school. Eventually, she attended Fairleigh Dickinson University in Rutherford, and was immediately struck by the historic significance. Williams Carlos Williams had lived and worked in Rutherford.
More important, she began to win poetry contests and began to understand she had talent as a poet. "I became much more serious as a poet," she said.
She also taught as an adjunct at the college, and became more deeply involved with the poetry scene in New Jersey and New York. She became the editor for a prestigious college literary magazine called Lunch, which directly inspired her to put out her own publication.
While she loved working on Lunch magazine, she also had ideas for the direction she wanted the publication to take -- ideas that often conflicted with her coeditor's.
"What I thought was absolutely wonderful, he didn't particularly like, and what he really got excited about, I didn't see as wonderful. What I liked he hated."
So Boss decided to put out her own magazine, and -- unlike other long-surviving publications of its kind -- she funded it herself, hoping she could sell enough copies to make the magazine self-sufficient. Over the early years, she watched numerous other publications fold, many of them too dependent on grants which vanished in the early 1980s.
While she had a long list of well-known poets in Lips, many of these writers were unknowns when Lips discovered them. She likes finding new voices and publishing talented writers never before published. Some of these writers come from New Jersey, many come from around the world. over the last decade Lips has become accepted in university libraries across the nation.
Boss has taken poetry on as a mission, teaching it in workshops, touring colleges, even bringing it to high schools and grammar schools throughout the area. She says she likes letting people in on the workings of the poetic mind.
In some ways, Boss bridges generations of poets, introducing herself to the up-and-coming generation of poets, while maintaining her connection with the poetic past. One dear friend of hers is Gregory Corso, but she has been associated with other big names of the Beat generation, including Allen Ginsberg. She met Ginsberg in Paterson in the early 1980s and was intrigued by his generosity and his wisdom.
"He is a very wise man, and very loyal and kind to his friends," she said. "But he is not afraid to say what he thinks."
In some ways, he and others have become an example of what she wants to do with her life.
"I don't know how I'm doing it, but I'm making a living as a poet, and that's something special," she said.
Boss has a long association with Hudson County, even though many of her activities are centered out of Passaic County Community College in Paterson, and stretch across the northern part of the state. She has read her poetry at Stevens Institute of Technology, and was one of the early poets from the old Beat 'n Path on Washington Street in Hoboken. For many, Boss has become an institution in poetry, helping to run some of the more important reading series across Northern Jersey. She and Maria Mazziotti Gillian run a reading series at Barnes & Noble (Clifton Commons) in Clifton, NJ on the first Thursday of the month from October through May.