Thursday, July 26, 2012

Confucius Say by Martha Boss

Confucius Say

By Martha Boss


22 Pages

Price: negotiable

Review by Dennis Daly

Each unpretentious poem in this amazing little chapbook by Martha Boss sneaks up on you and pulls you in to its seemingly surface world of charming stick characters and humorous observations. But there is something else here too: an unusual texture that produces depth in a hologram-like fashion.

Boss infuses her books with mystery from the moment of manufacture. The cover of each book is fringed off-white canvas held together by three staples and common brown twine. The author illustrates each chapbook with an original drawing. Mine has a primitive sketch of a rather angry and protective bird, a mother I think. The pages are cream-colored sturdy paper stock with retro lettering. Boss uses a Hermes Rocket portable typewriter, circa 1987. Occasional production errors are corrected with the use of white out fluid. The occurrence of imperfection only adds to the three dimensional quality and a comfortable feeling of accessibility.

The title poem, Confucius Say, is also the first poem in the collection. It sets the stage for what comes after with witty observations as well as a hint of something deeper. After comparing the actions of a young woman in the midst of a tai kwon do workout and six resting ducks that are getting fat and therefore fit to eat. Confucius, the observer, then notices a ripple on the water’s surface. The poet continues,

Confucius have cell phone.

henot just sit there

like a duck.

he have number

he call number.

he say something.

he say: ah, ripple on top

of water

come from

under water.

Boss’ poem Let Them Eat Cake shows off the poet’s sense of timing and wit. She says,

… sodium aluminum phosphate

propyleneglycolmono esters



xanathan gum

polysorbate 60

tetra sodium pyrophosphate

now you know

why it’s called

marble cake…

The poem ends with some laugh out loud irony. The baker apologizes but he apologizes for the trace nutritional ingredients that the cake mix contains. And thusly does the poet accurately describe thepresent state of poetry.

Both breathtaking in its simplicity and profoundly sad, the poem Mother’s Work dazzles. Boss’s persona brings new life to the old term describing life’s mortality: dust to dust. The poem is relatively short. Here is the better part of it:

…2 hooked rugs

i made one.

my daughter made the other.

the one she gave me had

her dust in the yarn.

the broom scattered it.

it’s looking for her ashes.

we scattered them years ago.

the ashes, somewhere,

have been waiting

for the dust.

i hope they find each other.

Did I say “profoundly sad.” Well okay, but it’s also a sadness tempered by acceptance and a touch of hopefulness. I like this poem a lot.

In her poem Peace Boss delivers a meditation on the title word suitable only for grown-ups. The poet sees world peace as a quaint expression hiding within more modern slogans. She then fleshes out her own understanding of peace in very personal terms.She says,

i remember the cradle

presumably soothing

to& fro

to& fro

back& forth

back& forth.

there are echoes

of motherly screams

in passive rocking.

blips on the radar.


a strange word.

Indeed a strange word. In its very essence the seeds of disquietude grow. The poet makes that very point this way,


it’s like dust

settling down

in the afternoon sun

as calmly

as wars are planned.

Another poem by Boss reinforces this theme of connections within opposites. In the poem The Battle In Surrender, she sees the adult world as a bit more complicated than some would have us believe. She says,

…the good

in the harm

the chink

in the armor

the enlightenment

in capital punishment

the hug

in the closed arms…

Boss in the poem entitled The Old Moviesmeditates on yesteryear’s popular habits as portrayed in film. But, of course, the sum of the poem is much more than that. She begins,

in the old movies

smoking was popular.

almost everyone smoked

especially when they were

angry. They just lit up.


slapping was big too.

all the women slapped

all the men.

love, hate, it didn’t matter.

The poet’s observations then zero in on the toothy smiles which have apparently replaced cigarettes but not necessarily slaps. We are talking about artists now and artistic fads and it’s quite funny. Boss comments,

if you look closely tho,

doesn’t that smile look

weirdly hostile?

i mean look near the nostrils…

there’s a little bit of grrr…

To read more of this wonderful poet you must find her and her books, a selection of which she carries with her. She reads regularly at the Stone Soup venue at the Out of the Blue art gallery in Cambridge on Monday evenings, and often meets with the Bagel Bards Saturday mornings at the Au Bon Pain in Davis Square Somerville.

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