In some ways, a poet invited to join the ranks of readers at the prestigious Geraldine Dodge Poetry Festival in Waterloo Village goes through a little of the rags-to-riches feelings baseball players get when they get to the World Series. Even for poets who have been around a long time, such as Hudson County's Laura Boss, it is an awesome feeling of accomplishment.
Even though the festival has been going on since 1984, it wasn't until Bill Moyers did his 1995 PBS documentary that the event hit the big time. Two years ago, the festival drew 15,000 people from around the world, an unheard of number for a poetry event, marking it as the largest regular event held anywhere.
Boss comes to the festival in a role equivalent to a baseball bench player. While she isn't recognized as one of the line of up stars that include United States Poet Laureate Stanley Kunitz, Billy Collins or Gwendolyn Brooks, she will be in the ball park, doing her part, reading and talking about the one great love in her life: poetry.
"I'm going to be reading in what you might call one of the mini-festivals there," she said.
Her arrival at the Dodge Festival, however, is no fluke. Over the years, she had proved her merit through a string of accomplishments. She has won recognition on the metropolitan scene, has met and claims as friends some of the most important poets of our generation, and she has put out one of the two longest running literary magazines in New Jersey.
Along with being the founder and editor of Lips magazine, Boss was the sole representative of the United States in the 1987 Annual International Struga Poetry Readings in Macedonia. She has also won first prize in Poetry Society of America's Gordon Barber Poetry contest, an American Literary Translators Award. Her books include Stripping from Chanty Press, On the Edge of the Hudson from Cross-Cultural Communications, which recently went into a second printing and bilingual editions, Reports from the Front. She has been included in several recent anthologies including Unsettling America from Viking press. Her poetry has also recently appeared in the New York Times.
In 1998, her manuscript was one of 10 finalists in PSA's DiCastagnola Award. Her most recent book is Arms: New and Selected Poems (Guernica, 1999). Her book Reports from the Front was nominated for an American Book Award. In 1999 she received a fellowship from the New Jersey Council on Arts in Poetry. She also won this prestigious award in 1986 and 1995.
A middle class life
In some ways, Boss bridges generations of poets, introducing herself to the up-and-coming generation of poets while maintaining her connection with the poetic past including Gregory Corso and Allen Ginsberg. Unlike many of the artists with whom she later associated, Boss went through the rituals of middle class life. Although she was an English major as an undergraduate, she delayed obtaining her masters. She married at 19, and bore her first child at 21. She lived the suburban life in North Caldwell, always struggling with the idea that she would eventfully get back to school. When she finally attended Fairleigh Dickenson University in Rutherford, Boss said, she was struck by the historic significance. Williams Carlos Williams had lived and worked in Rutherford (and was someone she later met). What is more important, she began to win poetry contests and began to understand she had talent as a poet.
She also taught as an adjunct at the college, she became more deeply involved with the poetry scene in New Jersey and New York. She became the editor for a prestigious college literary magazine called Lunch, which directly inspired her to put out her own publication. She funded it herself, hoping she could sell enough copies to make the magazine self-sufficient.
The Hudson River is one inspiration
Boss, who lives high up the Galaxy Towers in Guttenberg, has deliberately sought out an environment that allows her to create - although unlike many of the other poets from Paterson with whom she had associated, she has adopted the Hudson River as her source of inspiration.
"I like to write a lot about the Hudson River and New York," Boss said. "It is a wonderful place and I get to see more of New York City, and the river from here in Guttenberg than most people in New York get to see."
Boss has taken poetry on as a mission, teaching it in workshops, touring colleges, even bringing it to high schools and grammar schools throughout the state. Over the summer, she did a workshop for teachers in Union City, and has done workshops for teachers before in Hudson County, including the New Jersey City University.
Boss has traveled extensively, visiting more than 50 countries - much of which has also been a source of inspiration for her writing. She has toured Europe, reading in such prestigious places as Shakespeare & Company in Paris. She has read and taught from Kansas City, Mo. to Englewood, NJ, doing workshops on poetry with everyone from young children to senior citizens.
As a poet, she said her best poems are those that almost write themselves, "like an epiphany." Boss also believes that even sad poems give pleasure to the reader as well as the writer because they convey emotion. But many of her poems are about ordinary experience.
Geraldine Dodge Poetry Festival will be held at Waterloo Village, N.J. on Sept. 21 to 23. Boss will also hold a workshop at the Edgewater Barnes & Noble on Oct. 12, and she will be co-host to a weekend of poetry retreat called "Writing your way home," on Oct. 20 to 22 at the Marguerite's Retreat House in Mendham.