Our most frequent contributor Bruce Boston took the time to speak with us about his long history with Asimov’s, how a poem becomes a series, the process of collaboration, and much more in our latest Q&A. Make sure to check out Bruce’s most recent poem, “Unwritten,” in our current issue.
AE: Bruce, our readers are quite familiar with your work, as you are a regular in our table of contents. Can you talk a little bit about your history with Asimov’s?
BB: I published my first poem in Asimov’s SF in 1984. Since then, I’ve had poems in every year of the magazine, sometimes as many as five in one year. In sum, I’ve appeared in more issues of Asimov’s than any other author, and have been fortunate enough to receive the Asimov’s Readers Award seven times.
Most of my poems for Asimov’s are what I consider populist poems. By this I mean they are written for literate and intelligent readers who don’t normally read poetry, which seems appropriate for a fiction magazine. Writing poems primarily for those who read poetry is different, though the two are not always mutually exclusive.
AE: I know that the “Music of” series were particular hits with our readership. Do you find yourself working in series frequently?
BB: Part of what a writer does is look at the world from different perspectives. How else could one create believable characters and realities? In poetry, this kind of diverse perspective can lead to series poems when one takes a common genre trope and applies it across a spectrum of ideas and/or situations. I’ve had three other series beside the “Music of” poems that appeared regularly in Asimov’s: Accursed Wives, Anthropomorphisms, and humorous list poems, all of which eventually spawned their own collections. I’ve also written series about an alchemist and about deep spacers.
Another kind of list poem occurs when poems are exploring a particular world the author has created. I’ve written this kind of series while collaborating with three other authors in worlds we jointly created: Notes from the Shadow City with Gary W. Crawford, Sacrificial Nights with Alessandro Manzetti, and both Chronicles of the Mutant Rain Forest and Visions of the Mutant Rain Forest with Robert Frazier.
So to finally return to your question: Yes, I do find myself working in series frequently.
AE: We noticed that you and Bob Frazier were on the Final Bram Stoker Award ballot for your poetry and fiction collection Visions of the Mutant Rain Forest (which I proudly have on my own bookshelf!). Congrats! How did this collaboration come about, and where can our readers pick up their own copy?
BB: As Bob has stated elsewhere: “In the mid 80s, Bruce asked for a submission for the literary magazine Berkeley Poets Cooperative. I air-mailed ‘On the Rio Madeira,’ a cautionary tale of a mutated creature from the waters of the Amazon. He liked the milieu: mutation and the jungle. I had previously explored their collision in two other poems, but Bruce insisted there were rich poetic possibilities still to be mined. Soon we were trading stanzas to ‘Return to the Mutant Rain Forest,’ which did well for us, and, more importantly, became the kick-start to a growing series.
“We kept at it until the engines of creation wound down, the smoke and ashes cleared, and we held enough pieces for the poetry collection Chronicles of the Mutant Rain Forest (Horror’s Head, 1992). The experience was heady, organic, overwhelming, and heartfelt from the get-go.”
At the time I read “On the Rio Madeira,” I had also been reading the short stories of B. Traven of Treasure of the Sierra Madre fame. Bob’s descriptions of a mutating forest along with Traven’s evocations of an actual rainforest combined to create a sense of untapped mysteries I found irresistible. An old saw for beginning writers is to write about what you know. Judging from reader response, Bob and I, writing mainly from our imaginations, flew in the face of this tired adage successfully with the Mutant Rain Forest poems and stories.
Our recent collection, Visions of the Mutant Rain Forest (Crystal Lake, 2017) containing solo and collaborative poetry and fiction, can be found at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and most other online booksellers.
AE: What is the story behind your poem in the current issue of Asimov’s?
BB: “Unwritten” was inspired by the saying: “History is written by the winners.” Clearly, if the Axis Powers had won World War II, the history in our books and the history taught in our schools would be far different from what we have today. Yet even if one had the histories of the losers as well as the winners, it would still be no more than two biased viewpoints, a miniscule sliver of what actually transpired. Regarding any historical era or event, the comprehensive and real history only exists in the experiences of those who lived through it. And unfortunately, those are seldom recorded and are for the most part lost to us.
AE: Are there any themes that you find yourself returning to throughout your writing? If yes, what and why?
BB: Some themes recur and some evolve over time. At the heart of the Mutant Rain Forest series is the environmental theme of the Earth rebelling against humanity’s despoliations of the planet. Yet the series also embodies more individual themes of spirituality, artistic creation, and the conflict between security and adventure. The Accursed Wives and Accursed Husbands poems and stories explore male-female relationships and the different ways mates can abuse and exploit one another. I’ve also written a fair number of sociopolitical poems. The poem “In the Garden of the State,” which touches on the relationship between the individual and the state, eventually led to my dystopian SF novel The Guardener’s Tale.
AE: What other projects are you currently working on?
BB: Currently, I’m putting the finishing touches on my forthcoming poetry collection Artifacts, due from Independent Legions in July. It will include reprints from both Asimov’s and Analog, along with other publications, and also seven new poems appearing here for the first time.
AE: Do you have any advice for up-and-coming writers?
BB: I can only speak from my own experience, but I still think the advice is sound. Read, read some more, and keep reading. I’ve learned far more about writing from reading the authors I enjoy and admire than I ever have from workshops or classes.
AE: What SFnal prediction would you like to see come true?
BB: I have two: the colonization of other planets, including those circling other stars, and the discovery of intelligent extraterrestrial life somewhere in the Universe.
AE: What other careers have you had, and how have they affected your writing?
BB: Honestly, I’d have none to confess to. I’ve had a lot of different jobs over the years—computer programmer, technical writer, creative writing professor, writing for encyclopedias, retail clerk, book designer, gardener, furniture mover, etc.—but never considered any of them careers. They were all means to support my creative writing. They affected my writing the same way all life experiences—friendships, love affairs, familial relations, conflicts, even solitude—inform one’s consciousness of the world.
AE: How can our readers follow you and your writing?
BB: For a general background and bibliography, check my Wikipedia entry.
For more specific details and links to available books, visit my website.
For current publications and activities, follow me on Facebook, where I also regularly post poems old and new.