January 1, 2009

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Yellowrocket, by Todd Boss (2008, Norton, 116 pages)
By Dan Szczesny dszczesny@hippopress.com

What do you know, a collection of modern verse that manages to experiment with line break and rhyme without collapsing into a heap of pretentious, art-house, slam poetry. Todd Boss’ first collection, Yellowrocket, is a surprising mix of rural images and fresh emotional scenes ranging from childhood farms to life-changing storms. I say surprising because Boss’ verse uses odd timing and unconventional rhythm to play with the readers’ sense of form and function. For example, Boss splits rhymes across stanzas or uses line breaks to upset timing, but it mostly works.

In “The Truth,” Boss orders the lines in one lone bar on the page, with the rhymes not always falling at the end of the stanzas: “The Truth // is a chewy / treat, like / toffee, only / less sweet.” The effect would be disconcerting if Boss pushed the experiment too far, but he mostly knows when to tweak the reader and when to hold back.

And the poems themselves are strong enough visually to withstand the structure. It doesn’t work all the time, but Boss is a new poet and it’s refreshing to see a strong writer not be afraid of playing with his words. It’s a joy for the reader as well to know the poet trusts his audience enough to keep them on their toes. B Dan J. Szczesny