In December, “Bram Stoker Award Winning Poet – Bruce Boston”
Bruce Boston’s poetry and fiction have appeared in hundreds of publications, including Asimov’s SF, Amazing Stories, Realms of Fantasy, Strange Horizons, Weird Tales, The Pedestal Magazine, The Twilight Zone Magazine, Year’s Best Fantasy & Horror, and the Nebula Awards Showcase.
His poetry has received the Bram Stoker Award, the Asimov’s Readers’ Award, the Rhysling Award of the Science Fiction Poetry Association, the Balticon Poetry Award, and the Grandmaster Award of the SFPA. His fiction has received a Pushcart Prize and twice been a finalist for the Bram Stoker Award (novel, short story).
His writing stretches from humor to surrealism, with many stops along the way for science fiction, fantasy, horror, and noir. He’s published fifty books and chapbooks, including the novels The Guardener’s Tale and Stained Glass Rain in addition to numerous collections of short fiction and poetry. To celebrate his latest work, Resonance Dark & Light, Bruce graciously answered some questions for the HWA Poetry Page.
HWA: In some poems, “The Music of Werewolves” for example, the title is actually functioning as the first line of the poem (a contemporary version of an incipit, perhaps?). Since this style is only utilized by you in a handful of poems, I was wondering if there might be some rational behind this choice for these poems.
BB: The reason is entirely technical in terms of presenting a poem to readers. When the language in a poem is well crafted and the content is substantive, I feel the poem needs room to breathe, room for readers to savor its language and perceive its content. This translates into white space on the page, which in turn translates into stanza breaks. One of the commonest mistakes of beginning poets is jamming an entire poem into one stanza with no breaks, making it more difficult for readers to understand or appreciate aesthetically. Further, when a poem’s visual appearance on a page is attractive to the eye, readers (and editors) are more likely to be drawn into reading it. Since order is usually more visually appealing than chaos, this generally means not only stanza breaks, but regular stanza breaks with an equal number of lines in each stanza.
Sometimes when I finish the text of a poem and I feel the language and line breaks are working to my satisfaction, I end up with a poem of 29 lines, or 37 lines, namely, a number of lines that I could break into stanzas but not regular stanzas of equal line count. However, if the first line of the poem is also representative enough of the poem as a whole to serve as its title, the 29-line poem becomes 28 lines (seven stanzas of four lines each or four of seven lines each) and the 37-line poem becomes 36 lines (six stanzas of six lines each or twelve of three lines each).
HWA: A common theme in some of the poems in Resonance Dark and Light is art (William Bouguereau’s “Femme Au Coquillage” for example). Do you have a background in art history? What about these pieces of art motivated you to transform them into poetry? Do you have any particular favorite pieces of art that inspire you?
BB: From an early age I’ve always been interested in all aspects of culture: literature, art, music, etc. I do have a background in art history that I picked up in college. For two years, to help pay my way, I worked in the audio-visual department. Most of this work consisted of showing slides to art history classes while a professor lectured. I often did the same classes over and over, and eventually I probably learned more from the course than most of the students taking it.
No single piece of art stands out for me above all others, but a single artist does: Salvador Dali. The imagery in his paintings has inspired more of my poems, directly and indirectly, than any other artist.
HWA: In poems such as “Chrononaut Inductees” and others you deal with time travel; think it’ll be possible someday? Pros and cons? Would you, if you could, and to when?
BB: Some quantum physicists claim to have done it already with very elementary particles. My background in physics is not grounded enough to completely understand this or grasp its potential for humans to travel though time. Regardless, the exploration of time travel and its paradoxes has always been fertile ground for speculative fiction and poetry, so it quite naturally is one of the subjects I write about.
If I could time travel, the period would depend upon the nature of the time travel. If I could be sixteen again, 1959, and know what I know now, that is very appealing. But to confront myself at the age of sixteen as a seventy-two-year-old, I don’t find particularly appealing at all. Leaving my own lifetime out of the equation, I’d probably choose Paris in the 1920s. The problem with choosing any period is that some have been so romanticized, and others so demonized, in terms of our contemporary conceptions, any time-tripping would probably present a reality very different from what one expected.
HWA: There is a musicality to your poetry that has always made it lyrical and a pleasure to read. There are also many references to music itself, as well (“The Music of the Stars” for example); do you write listening to music? Any musical preferences?
BB: Creating a poem has two phases for me: the idea or inspiration phase, and the polishing phase. The first is most often in the evening, after a few glasses of wine, etc. I often listen to music during that phase: ambient, new age, jazz, alternative rock. No particular artists, just commercial-free stations that play the kind of music that I’m in the mood for. At that time, beyond the idea for the poem, I come up with lines and images and conceive the overall structure and flow of the piece. However, in the polishing phase, which is more often during the day and involves applying the craft of poetry, I rarely listen to music since it interferes with the music I’m trying to fashion in the language of the poem.
HWA: Finally, do you have a particular favorite from Resonance Dark and Light you would like to share?
If this were an interview for readers in general, I’d probably choose “The Music of the Stars” since it has received very good reader response, winning the Balticon Award and placing third for the Rhysling Award. However, since it will be mostly readers of dark literature who see this interview, let’s go with “The Music of the Devil.”
The Music of the Devil
When Satan and all his drunken retinue
raise their voices as one in raucous song,
in a fiery chorus of howls and blasphemes,
the Gehenna Philharmonic begins to play,
blanketing the airwaves in octaves so base
that they roil the currents of the River Styx
and quake-rattle the high canyons of Hell.
Demons torment the rosined strings pizzicato,
gorgons and gargoyles fierce-tickle the ivories
until they are compelled to moan and wail,
incubi huff on tubas that smoke like hookahs,
succubi in domina gear punish the timpani.
Deeply scored as history, broad as genocide,
the vast and dilapidated Hades Concert Hall
vibrates to the pitch of these infernal strains.
Drowning out birdsong and nursery rhymes,
snuffing both lullabies and sweet madrigals,
pounding through centuries dark and light,
these vile rhythms sound within our brains,
as on the scorched walls a lightshow plays,
stark tableaus of torture in obscene refrain.