Interview with Bruce Boston
by John C. Mannone
Bruce Boston is the author of fifty books and chapbooks, including the novels The Guardener’s Tale and Stained Glass Rain. His writing has appeared in countless publications, most visibly in Asimov’s SF Magazine, Amazing Stories, Weird Tales, Realms of Fantasy, The Pedestal Magazine, Science Fiction Age, Strange Horizons, Daily Science Fiction, Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror, and The Nebula Awards Showcase. One of the leading genre poets for more than a quarter century, Boston has received the Bram Stoker Award for Poetry Collection, the Asimov’s Readers Award for Poetry, the Rhysling Award of the Science Fiction Poetry Association, and the Grandmaster Award of the SFPA. His fiction has received a Pushcart Prize, twice been a finalist for the Bram Stoker Award (novel, short story), and a finalist for the Micro Award (flash fiction).
John: To say you are a prolific writer, as well as being highly accomplished, is an understatement. Click here for a bibliographic summary..
Having read other fine interviews with you, such as John Amen’s in The Pedestal (issue 11, 2002) and Van der Hooft’s in Strange Horizons (June 2007), where you address what speculative poetry is, would you please summarize your thoughts about what it is for our readers who might ask if a speculative poem is just a science fiction or fantasy poem, especially since you helped define the genre?
Bruce: If you are talking absolute categories, the defining characteristic that sets speculative poetry apart from mainstream poetry is that it speculates. Mainstream poetry concerns itself with the everyday world that we inhabit and perceive: personal relationships, observations of people and the city and of nature, social and sometimes political situations, etc. When you encounter an “I” voice in mainstream poetry, it is most often the author of the poem speaking directly to the reader about something in the real world. In contrast, speculative poetry deals more with the imagination: the world as it might be, the nature of reality, why we are here, what the future may hold, the existence of the supernatural, etc. It fashions scenarios of the possible rather than the actual. When you encounter an “I” voice in speculative poetry, it is most often a fictional character speaking, not the poet. Since the real world exists not in terms of absolute categories but of gradations from one category to another, it is not always completely clear whether a poem is speculative or not.
John: I understand that your first passion was fiction. How did you become interested in speculative poetry? And as you write fiction today, what has poetry brought to the table besides the effective use of metaphor and other poetic devices in your fiction.
Bruce: In 1971 I joined a group in Berkeley, California: The Berkeley Poets Cooperative. I already had an interest in poetry from reading poets such as Pound, Eliot, Ginsberg, Poe, and a score of others. And I’d already written some poetry that had been published in Occident, the University of California, Berkeley, literary magazine. Each week the group held an open workshop, so I began writing poems more regularly to contribute to it. My poems were often distinctively different from other in the group. I was writing speculative poetry, though I didn’t yet have at name for it. It was not until the late seventies that I connected with Robert Frazier and his magazine The Anthology of Speculative Poetry, and through Bob the Science Fiction Poetry Association, that I discovered fellow writers who were mining the same imaginative vein that I was in poetry.
Poetry and fiction both employ the medium of language. Anything that enhances one’s language skills is going to enhance both, and seriously practicing the craft of poetry certainly enhances one’s language skills: brevity, the perfect word for the line (or sentence), symbolism, assonance and dissonance, rhythm, flow, etc. I generally read poems aloud at some point while composing them, and for certain passages in fiction, I do the same thing.
John: If there is such a thing as a typical writing day, please share your process with us. If the process is unique each time you write, then could you share the triggers of inspiration?
Bruce: There is no typical writing day unless I am working on something long: a novel, a long story, or a very long poem. Then I write first thing in the morning and try to put in four or five hours at it, sometimes returning to it for another hour or two later in the day. If I am writing shorter poems or flash fictions there is no schedule. I write when the spirit moves me, sometimes not writing for weeks at a time. A thirty-line poem may percolate for days or even months, changing a little and becoming more polished each time I return to it, until I feel it is complete and ready to submit for publication.
John: In a recent and fascinating article posted in The Guardian (http://www.theguardian.com/science/2013/oct/05/daily-rituals-creative-minds-mason-currey), Oliver Burkeman reviews the book “Daily Rituals: How Great Minds Make Time, Find Inspiration And Get To Work” by Mason Currey. We learn six lessons from history’s most creative minds; one of them is the practice of “strategic substance abuse.” I think many of us are familiar with Edgar Allen Poe and his indulgence to alcohol, or Calvin Coleridge, and his to cocaine, when they created some of the finest speculative fiction or poetry in history. And though hardly abusive, I do enjoy a glass or two of dry red wine when I create poetry (or write interviews. LOL). So tell us if your experiences support Currey’s thesis.
Bruce: Very much so, though I think I’d refer to it as “use” rather than “abuse.” I’ve consumed a large quantity and variety of mind-altering substances in my life. When the mind is in an altered state one’s imagination can be stimulated and you are more likely to travel mental byways that lead to ideas and perceptions you would have never experienced otherwise. Thus the ingestion of certain substances can contribute to one’s creativity and imagination, just as your glass or two of wine does for you. However, I believe abuse of such substances is detrimental to both creativity and one’s health. And I don’t write final drafts of either poems or stories in a mind-altered state. That’s where the craft of writing comes in.
John: You close your recent collection, Dark Roads, with “Thirteen Ways of Looking at and through Hashish.” Its clever final lines might elucidate what we’ve talked about in the previous question.
“Tendrils of illumination
Cling to my thoughts,
Trailing in my wake,
Puzzling to those
Whose paths I cross,
Those ever immersed
In the dull endurance
Of their daily tasks,
Of what lies beyond
The stolid borders
Of the everyday,
Unable to travel
In the domains
Of space and time
Bruce: Actually, I think the whole twenty-page poem does. But please note that the poem as a whole portrays not only the positive but the negative aspects of mind-altering chemicals.
John: This, of course, is a good segue into your latest collection. I’ve had the pleasure of reading Dark Roads: Selected Long Poems/1971-2012 (Dark Renaissance Press 2013). Thirty one poems span over the 156 pages. Share with us what you’d like your potential readers to know about this fine collection. (And of course, tell us how we can purchase it.)
Bruce: Dark Regions Press published a retrospective collection of my work in 1995 – Sensuous Debris: Selected Poems 1970-1995. Since nearly twenty years had transpired since that book, and more than forty since I began writing speculative poetry, I thought it was time for another retrospective collection covering my entire career as a speculative poet. However, when I began to assemble it I realized that if I included all my own favorites poems along with those readers had single out, I would be looking at a three-hundred-page collection, which seems to me excessive for a book of poetry. Therefore, I first decided to limit the book to long poems, all those fifty lines or over. And next, since I’ve been working more in the horror field than science fiction for the last dozen or so years, I decided to limit it to dark poems.
You can purchase the regular trade paper edition of Dark Roads at Amazon, the signed limited trade paper at Dark Renaissance Books and Dark Regions Press, and the signed, limited hardcover edition at Bad Moon Books, Camelot Books, and Ziesing Books.
John: The illustrations by M. Wayne Miller in Dark Roads are remarkable. Your wife, Marge Simon, is also a notable poet and artist, whose artwork is fascinating, too, and she is quite skilled at ekphrasis—one art form complementing another (a fair way of defining it).
So, in general, how do you collaborate with Marge, and what advice can you give other writers collaborating with their counterparts?
Bruce: Joe Morey at Dark Renaissance Books selected Wayne Miller to illustrate Dark Roads, and I couldn’t have been more pleased, particularly once I saw the work he produced for the book.
Marge and I have collaborated in several different ways and forms. Marge has illustrated several of my collections, which is a kind of collaboration since her art was in response to specific poems. We have also collaborated on cartoons, Marge’s art along with ideas that I came up with or we did together. However, most of our collaborations have been with poetry and flash fiction. This generally happens when Marge is stalled on a piece and I contribute some ideas and lines that get it moving again. Then we pass it back and forth until it feels finished and we are both satisfied with it.
As far as advice for couples or any writers collaborating: 1) If your styles of writing are too disparate, don’t try it; 2) Have a clear idea of what you are trying to accomplish with a particular poem or story, and make sure you agree on it. 3) Never collaborate unless you are both enthusiastic about it.
John: We are delighted to reprint or publish for the first time some of your poems in this issue: “Living in a World Of Giants,” “For Spacers Snarled in the Hair of Comets” (Asimov’s SF Magazine, April 1984 and 1985 Rhysling Award winner), “Visions of the Blue Clone” (Shades Fantastic, 2006), and “The City and the Stars” (The Pedestal Magazine, 2002). Would you care to give the genesis of each of these poems and/or any interesting anecdote concerning them?
Bruce: Not sure about the genesis of each poem, but I can say something about each:
“Living in a World of Giants” – Modern science, despite it’s many wonderful practical achievements that have given us a living standard superior to kings of a hundred years ago, remains totally impotent regarding one important aspect of our daily lives.
“For Spacers Snarled in the Hair of Comets” – This one was written thirty years ago, and I don’t remember what prompted it. It’s a mix of science fiction imagery and surreal imagery. The “spacers” of the title can be interpreted literally as far future space travelers, or metaphorically as anyone who has lost their way and is struggling with life’s complications.
“Visions of the Blue Clone” – This is an ekphrastic poem based on my own art. In some early version of Windows there was a free graphics program included called Picture It. I started playing around with it as a recreation, taking photographs and other images and manipulating and changing them. By taking an old photo of Marge, I created the image below. This consequently inspired the poem, which portrays the aspects of a developing relationship using a biblical metaphor.
“The City and the Stars” – The title of the poem is taken from an early Arthur C. Clarke novel where the last surviving humans live in a huge enclosed arcology on a barren Earth. They have forgotten about the stars completely and lost their aspirations to reach them. I took the same idea and compared it to humans living in a contemporary city. This is one of the poems that stands on the borderline between speculative and mainstream, and it first appeared in a literary magazine, not a speculative publication.
John: What projects do you have on the near and far horizons?
Bruce: For the first time in many years, I’m project-less at the moment. I could put together a retrospective collection of my shorter poems, or an entirely new collection of previously uncollected poems. But the book market is so glutted these days by indie and small press books, and ebooks, often offered for free, that it seems like a fruitless endeavor. Though I will be continuing to submit new poetry and fiction to magazines and anthologies.
John: Thank you
Bruce: Thanks for having me. I hope your readers enjoy the poems.