Todd Boss rides his 'Yellowrocket'

A still from an animated poem by Todd Boss
A still from the animated poem, "Don't Be Flip," by Todd Boss.
Image courtesy of Todd Boss

Todd Boss sits at a high table in a corner of Nina's in Cathedral Hill. It's a noisy place, what with the espresso machine blasting, the caffeinated conversations and the occasional wailing child.

But this is where Todd Boss likes to write. He said he became a poet after his wife commented something he'd said sounded like a poem.

Todd Boss
Todd Boss says he began writing poetry because his wife remarked something he said sounded like a poem. He says he kept writing to impress her.
MPR photo/Euan Kerr

"And because I had her attention, I wanted more of it and I just kept writing, Boss said. "She is really the reason I write at all, and to woo women is as a noble a reason for anyone to do anything."

Of course, it does take a little more than that to become a successful poet, particularly one who attracts the attention of a publisher like W.W. Norton.

And, Boss admits he took an unusual path to learning more about his craft and making connections.

"I feel like I have arrived, but there is no-one on the pier to cheer for me. I am all alone out there,"

"By lying to a bunch of publishers and telling them that I was reviewing books, which I had never done, they started sending me review copies and offering me interviews with pretty important people," he said. "And because I took those interviews seriously, and had every intention of doing reviews of those books, those people began to ask me about me and began to get invested in my poetry as well."

Todd Boss said he writes poems about ordinary aspects of life.

His collection, "Yellowrocket", is divided into sections about growing up on a farm, then about his adult life, the joys and worries of having children, and the stresses of his marriage.

"My wife and I have a very turbulent relationship and always have," he said. "And it's the challenge of knowing and loving the other that has always drawn us to one another."

He said things are going well now, but that wasn't always the case, and he ended up writing a lot of poems as a result.

He launches into one piece called "Don't come home." (You can hear the full poem by using the links on the this page.)

"Don't come home,

ranks first among

the worst things

someone you love

can say. Not even

the common I

hate you does

the damage Don't

come home will

do."

Boss isn't reading here, he's reciting. He said he can do this for at least half the poems in "Yellowrocket."

"I like to say I have them by heart, because the idea of poetry is to get at the heart," Boss said. "It's not to get at the memory or the head. It's to get somewhere else and the place where you store your meaning and the things that mean a good deal to you."

Todd Boss is very pleased to have his book out, but he knows that only gets him so far.

Nina's Coffee Cafe
Nina's Coffee Cafe is a well known gathering spot for local writers. Todd Boss wrote many of the poems in "Yellowrocket" here and as the poet laureate of the cafe he also organizes readings for local writers.
MPR photo/Euan Kerr

"I feel like I have arrived, but there is no one on the pier to cheer for me. I am all alone out there," he said.

To be blunt, most Americans don't read poetry. But Boss said that doesn't mean they don't appreciate it. In fact, he thinks people unknowingly seek it out, very often in the form of songs on the radio.

"The reason they don't know it's poetry is because it's not packaged as poetry, but it's lyrics nonetheless and it's words nonetheless," he said.

Boss also said many people get their poetry from the pulpit, listening to words of poets written thousands of years ago. He said he believes to most people, poetry is the province of academics and therefore inaccessible.

He wants to change that, to make poetry the words of ordinary people in everyday places. As the poet laureate of Nina's, he has been organizing readings in the cafe to offer a venue for some of the many local writers.

"I think we are at crossroads in this culture," he said. "The election of a poet, Barack Obama, to the Presidency of the United States, is a signal that just about everybody is aware of but can't quite articulate." Barack Obama? Poet? "I think so," said Boss. "I think that's why they respond to him. He didn't get up there and say, 'I have a poem for you,' but he got up there and started speaking poetry and it was sufficient enough to move them, and inspire them, yeah."

So with the poets taking over the Presidency, Todd Boss said it's a good time to be a poet.

Your support matters.

You make MPR News possible. Individual donations are behind the clarity in coverage from our reporters across the state, stories that connect us, and conversations that provide perspectives. Help ensure MPR remains a resource that brings Minnesotans together.