M.F.A. Poetry ’94
Hometown: Eau Claire, Wisconsin
Fun Fact: Grew up on an 80-acre cattle farm
Two years after earning his M.F.A. in poetry from UAA, Todd Boss wrote “One can miss mountains…and pine. One can dismiss a whisper’s revelations and go on as before as if everything were perfectly fine…” The opening lines to his breakout poem “One Can Miss Mountains,” originally published in The New Yorker, were triggered by his longing for the mountains of Alaska.
He wrote the poem in New Hampshire, it was published (ironically) while he was on vacation in Hawaii, but it is Alaska where he honed his craft.
“It was at my wife’s urging that I applied for the M.F.A.,” says Todd, who received his bachelor’s in English, speech and theatre from St. Olaf College in Minnesota. “I knew I was good at communicating and thought I’d just land in a corporate communications role. But she made me think twice; suggested I explore another set of talents.”
Todd met Amy Grove the third day of their freshman year of college, and since she had always dreamed of living in Alaska, UAA was at the top of Todd’s list when it came time to apply to M.F.A. programs.
“Alaska just seemed like a great place for a writer to disappear to for while,” Todd says. “A really distinct feature of Alaska, too, was the other students and coming into contact with all sorts of different people from all kinds of places.”Todd has always been drawn to the power of poetry and describes his impulses as a writer to be toward the sound of language, the music. He was here when poet Tom Sexton was chair of the English Department.
“Tom was my advisor and was a big influence,” Todd says. “He had this great Irish/Massachusetts accent and would read poetry to us in the classroom. It was enchanting to listen to him read. Much of my love of the music of language can be linked back to Alaska and those intimate readings.”
Back in the early ’90s, UAA’s M.F.A. program was still a residency program, so Todd and Amy made the move for two years. After the gig was up, they moved to Saint Paul to get married, and they live there now with their daughter (12) and son (10). But Todd hasn’t stayed away completely. He has traveled back to Alaska on a number of occasions for the Kachemak Bay Writers’ Conference (he was a featured guest one year) and this coming October he will be in Anchorage for the release of the second edition of Alaska Quarterly Review’s 30th anniversary issue as one of its guest editors.
In addition to his cravings for Alaska from time to time, he also pines for the style of living that was growing up on an 80-acre subsistence farm in Wisconsin. And you can tell by many of the down-to-earth and homegrown poems found in both collections of his poetry, Yellowrocket (2008, W.W. Norton) and Pitch (2012, W.W. Norton).
His poetry has also appeared in Poetry, The London Times and Best American Poetry as well as on National Public Radio. Yellowrocket was named one of the 10 best poetry books of the year in 2009, among other accolades, and Pitch just launched in March.
His other major project, started four years ago, is Motionpoems .
Motionpoems began when designer Angella Kassube approached him at a poetry reading and described her dream of building an animation of a poem.
“I told her to just pick her favorite and show me what she could do,” Todd remembers. And what began as an experiment with his poetry has now become a full-scale production company committed to bringing together other poets and animators.
“I thought it was such an interesting process,” he says. “Animators usually work for corporate clients with brand standards. With us, we give them complete creative control. Poets are always dying for a little attention, too. So it made sense to put them together.”
This new hybrid category in the art world has found backing from publisher partners as well as grant support. Operating as a nonprofit, Motionpoems’ mission is “to broaden the audience for poetry by turning great contemporary poems into short films for big-screen and online distribution.”
Todd hopes to debut a motionpoem in Alaska when he’s here for the Alaska Quarterly Review celebration in October. Until then, feast yours eyes and ears on these .