Interview with Editor Laura Boss
Carrie McLeod Howson, poet and one of Laura's students, interviews Laura Boss.
At what age did you begin to write poetry?
I remember I was six and was sitting in the front of our rented two-family house in Perth Amboy and I saw my good friend Phyllis across the street playing with her brother and laughing right after her mother had died, and I thought doesn't she know how much her life is going to change (and it did) and spontaneously wrote a poem about loss in the red clay dirt.
What were your favorite poems when you were young -- say, around junior high age?
I think I was not really aware of contemporary poetry except for rhymed children's poems. The first poem that resonated with me was Wordsworth's The World Is Too Much with Us around junior high school age.
At about what age did you think of yourself as A Poet?
I don't think I thought of myself as a poet (although I always wrote) until I was a winner in the New Jersey William Carlos Williams' Poetry Contest for the two final years of the contest and I was called by a journalist for an interview and photo that was featured in either the Bergen Record or the Herald News.
What writers -- not necessarily poets -- do you feel have influenced your writing the most?
Philip Roth with his fearlessness and candor and direct writing as well as Sylvia Plath for the same reasons plus her electrifying images, Walt Whitman with his "I" point of view and long lines and passionate poetry, and of course William Carlos Williams with his American idiom and his credo of "no ideas except in things."
Would you identify yourself with any particular school of poetry?
I guess I fall into the narrative school of poetry although I have at times written imagistic poetry. I've heard myself referred to as both a narrative poet and a lyrical poet.
Is there a particular environment that is most conducive to writing poetry for you? A particular place or things you surround yourself with?
For me, the changing landscape of the Hudson River and seeing the New York skyline from my window is both stimulating and soothing. But basically, when I write, I just lose myself on the page itself.
You have many calls on your time: family obligations; teaching obligations; readings; you publish a poetry magazine. All this probably leaves you very little time to write. Is this true, and if so how do you feel about the situation?
I think I still do a great deal of the writing by hand in various notebooks and scraps of paper, but my family and editing as well was workshop obligations seem to keep me from typing up my poems. Sometimes I wonder if I use all my responsibilities which take up so much of my time as an excuse not to type up all the work in my notebooks.
Of all your activities, what is your favorite?
I'm happy when I'm writing even if the poems are not about happy subjects, and I always enjoy reading. I'm always exhilarated when I have a chance to see my grandchildren. And it's always a joy for me to visit one of my sons who lives in an area hours away.
You have been through a lot of adversity in your life. Was there ever a time when you felt truly happy? If so, when was that and what was it about your life that was making you happy?
Of course, there have been fleeting moments when I felt truly happy or at least content. But I remember one moment when I had just started at Douglass College when I was eighteen years old, and as I was walking over a little wooden bridge on campus back to my dorm (the first time I had lived on my own) I was overwhelmed by startling exhilaration and thought, "I'm on my own and everything is in front of me and anything is possible."
There was a time when you were one of the Beautiful People. Did you feel that was the real you or did you feel as though you were wearing someone else's skin?
Well, I don't think I ever thought of myself as one of the "Beautiful People" but I think some viewed me that way because when I was married, I had what might have seemed such a luxurious lifestyle. I did choose to walk away from that lifestyle. No, I never viewed myself as one of the "Beautiful People" and a friend from that time said to me later, " But, Laura, you never fit in. You shone like a beacon from someplace else and seemed to have an inner life and different values that just were separate from us." While I was in that lifestyle, I think a part of me was strongly involved with my children and husband while at the same time a part of me that didn't fit into such a materialistic lifestyle was searching for more emphasis on a rich inner life. I chose to go back to school when it was rarer to do so as a wife and mother. Still there are moments – especially today – when I miss the freedom that money gives one.
When you are at a point when things are just too much,how do you refresh yourself?
I like to read or get in my car and drive. And I have been known to go to a mall the way some men go to a bar.