Bruce Boston. Among speculative poets and those who read it, he’s a well-known name. But just in case YOU are not familiar with him, here’s a brief biography of the Man (gleaned from his own website):
Since this is an interview I’ll let him speak for himself – Tell us a little about yourself, your history.
I was born of Catholic and Jewish heritage in Chicago in 1943, and grew up in Southern California in an era of rock and roll, the Cold War, and the Space Race. From 1961-2001, I lived in the San Francisco Bay Area, attending and graduating from the University of California, Berkeley, while active in the psychedelia and political protests of the 1960s.
I’ve worked in a variety of occupations, including computer programmer, college professor, technical writer, book designer, movie projectionist, gardener, and furniture mover. I now live in Ocala, Florida, once known as The City of Trees, with my wife, writer-artist Marge Simon and the ghosts of two cats.
Boston’s fiction and poetry have appeared in hundreds of magazines – in both print, online and audio. I, myself, was first introduced to his poetry through StarShipSofa.com, for which I recorded a number of them. He’s won too many awards to list here, but suffice it to say he has won the important ones record numbers of times. He became the Science Fiction Poetry Association’s first Grand Master in 1999. He has published over 50 books and chapbooks, many of them available as ebooks. In addition to writing he is also a visual artist, having produced cover and internal art for his own books and for others. He is book editor for Dark Regions Press and speculative fiction and poetry editor for Pedestal Magazine. If you would like more detailed information on his life, publications and appearances, including links to more interviews, head on over to his website. He does an admirable job of keeping it up to date.
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I asked Bruce a few general questions about what it means to be a writer, especially of poetry:
Diane Severson for Amazing Stories: What do you do to keep the Muse primed? Or are you a natural font of ideas? Where do you get your ideas?
Bruce Boston: Harlan Ellison told me about this place in Schenectady, New York, called Ideas-R-Us. You send them one hundred dollars and they give you an idea every month for a year.
Or, to quote Rod Serling: “Ideas are in the air. Ideas are everywhere.”
Serling is seriously correct. Your own life story and experience, the lives of your friends and relatives, news articles, books that you read, movies that you see, music that you listen to, a scrap of overheard conversation, a revolutionary scientific discovery, what happens and what do you see when you go for a walk downtown or in nature, a stranger on a train or plane or bus who for some reason you find yourself looking at more than once, how they are dressed, how they act, wondering who they are, what their life is like. Just couple any the above with your imagination, extrapolate, and the ideas should arrive. If your imagination can do nothing with all of this life experience, then you better set aside that hundred bucks and write Schenectady.
ASM: Do you revise your poetry once the basic poem is written? How do you decide when a poem is “finished”?
BB: Except for very short poems that sometimes come to me full blown before I write or type anything down, I do revise poems once the basic poem is written, sometimes extensively. And sometimes I let them sit for weeks or months before going back to them and trying for a “finished” draft.
“Finished” is a very relative term when applied to poetry, particularly when it is in quotes. Sometimes I’ll look back at a poem I published decades ago, and yes, I feel that by changing a word here or there, I could make it a better poem, more “finished.” Yet at the time I wrote it, I must have considered it finished or I wouldn’t have submitted it for publication. Those were different times and a different self, with a different voice and esthetics. If I could time trip back to my consciousness at the time I wrote the poem, I might not want to change a word.
ASM: You have received so many awards and accolades throughout your career
and are likely going to receive many more. Which ones are you most proud of? Which ones do you still aspire to?
BB: I tend to be proud of particular books, poems, or stories I’ve written rather than what awards they may have won. Of my poetry collections, I’m probably most proud of Pitchblende (Dark Regions, 2003) since it includes some of my very best literary poetry along with some of my best populist poetry. It also brought me my first Bram Stoker Award®.
I’ve certainly received my share of awards for poetry over the years. The only major fiction award I’ve received is a Pushcart Prize. So in terms of award aspirations, I’d like to win a major award for genre fiction. My novel The Guardener’s Tale made it to the Bram Stoker Award® Final Ballot, but faltered in the stretch. Currently, my short story “Surrounded by the Mutant Rain Forest” is on the Final Stoker Ballot, with the winners to be announced in June.
Yet more than winning an award, it’s the work that counts. I’d rather write a novel I felt proud of that failed to win an award…than one that won but in my own estimation was not first-rate.
Most of the above questions spring from the mind of one who doesn’t write fiction or poetry, so it’s with genuine curiosity that I wonder where the ideas come from and how a writer proceeds once the pen has begun scratching on the paper. And for someone of Boston’s stature and years in the profession, I personally value his opinion of his own work and thoughts on all the recognition he’s received over the years.
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I had the pleasure of receiving review copies Boston’s most recently published works, Anthropomorphisms and Notes from the Shadow City (a collaboration with Gary William Crawford) as well as a few preview poems for two upcoming publications – Dark Roads and Tales of the Mutant Rain Forest (a collaboration with Robert Frazier) for the purpose of this interview.
Anthropomorphisms (2012, Elektrik Milk Bath Press) is a short volume of related “people” poems, which bring to life attributes we might associate with various animals and creatures, real or imaginary, as well as labels for humans. The poems often start out humorously, making you smirk to think of these characteristics in humans (or ourselves specifically), or Boston uses the perfect tone to evoke a well-known type of person.
More often than not they take a turn towards the horrific:
ASM: Most of these poems are quite bleak and dark – full of dread and horror. Just a few of them are less so (such as “Golden People” and “Beat People” for example). Do you see the darker poems as cautionary and/or prophetic? Or even as illuminating (undesirable) qualities or traits, which society and people in general already display? I’m thinking of “Assassin People”, “Mole People” and “Champagne People” to name a few.
BB: The intent varies with the poem. Some of the poems here are mainly intended as dark humor. Others are what you suggest, an attempt to reflect and exaggerate certain human traits. As David C. Kopaska-Merkel says in his blurb on the back cover: “They show us facets of ourselves that we may not have paid sufficient attention to. Boston uses the poems in Anthropomorphisms to illustrate the very real foibles of the human race.”
All the poems in Anthropomorphisms are very direct, what I call populist poems, meaning they can be read and appreciated by most readers, including those who don’t normally read poetry. I use this distinction to set them apart from literary poems that are written mainly for those who read poetry. Literary poems are more likely to be subtle, include allusions, be elusive, employ a larger vocabulary, more poetic technique, and operate on more than one level. For an extreme contrast to the populist poetry in Anthropomorphisms, see my poem “The Lesions of Genetic Sin” at Strange Horizons.
Here are a couple of audio examples:
To hear more from Anthropomorphisms (Marble People, Chess People and Gargoyle People) go to StarShipSofa Aural Delights No. 71.
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ASM: Your other recent collection, Notes from the Shadow City, also on the current Bram Stoker Awards® Final Ballot, was written in collaboration with Gary William Crawford. How did this collaboration come about? And how does such a collaboration work?
BB: I’ve known Gary for twenty years or more. When we first got online around 2000, we would sometimes share poems for comment and criticism. Gary liked my comments enough on a couple of his Shadow City poems that he suggested we make them collaborations. Two of those appeared in his collection The Shadow City (Naked Snake, 2005). Later, in 2008, when I was compiling the best of my collaborative poems with ten other writers for my collection Double Visions, Joe Morey at Dark Regions Press wanted to include some originals in the collection. Gary and I did a new Shadow City poem for that. Then when Gary decided to do a second Shadow City collection, he invited me to join him and make it a collaborative effort. I agreed, since I’d always felt the Shadow City was a rich, dark vision with lots of possibilities for poetic exploration. That’s how it came about.
In terms of how it worked, we both exchanged ideas for new poems set in the Shadow City. Some of them we wrote solo, and others we collaborated on. Though in a sense, all the poems in the collection are collaborations, both because this was a shared world and because we were exchanging comments on one another’s work, that often prompted rewrites. In terms of what we each contributed, Gary’s poems tend to deal more with the emotional and psychological effects of living in the Shadow City upon its denizens, how it affects their lives and consciousness, whereas mine deal more with filling out the physical and atmospheric milieu of the city both literally and metaphorically. Though that is a simplification, since we both often cross into one another’s poetic territory, particularly in the collaborative poems.
The River Magnus Winds through the Shadow City
In the second part of this interview, which will be forthcoming, I talk to Bruce about publications due out in 2013 or early 2014 – a collection of long poetry from throughout his long career and a collaborative collection set in another shared world. He’ll also tell us what’s in the works.
I hope you’ll join me then for some more valuable insight and some great poetry.
This is me, signing out.
Great interview, Bruce and Diane!