BOSS: Box of Sky Skeleton (Dusie Kollektiv 3, 2008)
Interviewed by Robyn Conner and Laura Sanders
Why did you start writing poetry?
I was drawn to writing poetry young. I wrote my first poem at 11. I think it felt like a natural way to express the ineffable, what I couldn’t say (or wasn’t interested in speaking) in conversation. Poetry gave me a place to have a voice as a young girl when I don’t think many people were listening. There was (and is) great freedom in poetry. I was also interested in the abstract even then. Creating an image or using language to leave an echoing auditory impression appealed to me more than conveying a narrative and concrete thought through language. I was interested in pushing the boundaries of language: breaking open words and re-configuring them. Initially, I don’t think a lot of conscious thought went into writing poetry. It was just something I did. There was energy for conversation and energy for poetry. The first poem I remember writing of my own volition, not as a school assignment, was one day after my best friend and I were walking home from school. We had just arrived at my building, a 33-floor skyscraper, when we looked up to see enormous snowflakes falling. It was the first snow of the season. When you stand directly below a skyscraper and look up, it appears to be titling or falling. So as we stood there below the skyscraper with the fresh snowflakes coming down, it looked like the sky was falling. I ran upstairs and got a pen and paper. That was my first poem. I don’t have that poem anymore. It would be interesting to see and probably embarrassing. After that, I wrote about boys and love in my marble notebook. Robert Epstein. Ferris Wheels.
Why did you decide to write about bones?
The subject of bones came about rather organically. My father had just died from Alzheimer’s a few months before, so the physical aspects of life and mortality were on my mind. A good friend had also died a few years before. So I think it was definitely a way for me to process their deaths. Around that time too, I was invited to do a reading in Utrecht, Holland and see friends in Paris. I visited the Museum of Comparative Anatomy one day and was so blown away that I made a daily practice of going there. I became obsessed with a teenage mammoth in the center atrium of the room and found all the 17th century specimens fascinating: two headed calves, animals joined at the heart, ears. I have found sometimes that several seemingly random elements spill into the work when you are writing it, without it being a conscious or rational process. In this case—bones, two headed calves, death, and light.
How did you decide on the line breaks?
The line breaks were a way to illustrate the content. I wanted the poems to be visually light and skeletal on the page, resembling spines and rib cages.
How did the bones in the museum inspire you?
I am not sure what the very first impetus was, but while writing this book, I did research in the Museum of Comparative Anatomy in Paris, which is full of bones and amazing oddities. I soon began to see bone metaphors or representations everywhere. After that, I just allowed that subject to sift through me every day. Such as in the poem that says “the clouds in the sky make a spine and fade” or when I heard that whale skeletons fall to the ocean floor and it is referred to as ocean snow.
Why is the collection called Box of Sky?
As I mentioned, my father had recently died. I was back in New York City for the first time in a long time. Quiet spaces appealed to me very much and I took advantage wherever I could find them. I found myself in James Turrell’s installation, Meeting at MOMA P.S. 1. It is so simple and brilliant at the same time. I thought “It looks like a box of sky. He created a box of sky for us.”
What does the B.O.S.S stand for?
I was leaving a house party in France after smoking some hash when I realized the letters from “Box of Sky Skeleton” abbreviated made the word B.O.S.S. I liked that, so I used it in the title. (That isn’t my usual method of titling, by the way and I am not recommending it. )
Who is Louise on page 16?
Ahh, Louise on page 16 is the artist, Louise Bourgeois.
You have an interesting choice of words to describe things like home. What influenced these choices?
Oh jeez! I don’t know. Let’s skip it. That’s a good one for my therapist.
Is there a particular poem secretly dedicated in some way to Sarah Bishop?
The poems on pages 3 to 4 of Box of Sky are quite literally about the process my friends and I went through after Sarah’s death. One friend was a sculptor, a ceramicist, and he shaped the dirt from her clothes into mounds of earth. These were the last pieces of her to have had contact with the earth.
How does this chapbook compare to your other work? Have you written other chapbooks centered on one theme?
Box of Sky is different from my other work. It is specific to the subject matter I was exploring while I was writing it. I get very immersed in what I’m writing about, the research, the world around that particular subject and all that can possibly spill into it. (I love any excuse to do research.) Although I’ve never thought of them as “themes,” I’ve written other chapbooks centered on one topic. I just think of it as writing poetry and as it happens, a focus arises. Chapbooks are great for taking on a specific subject. Now that you mention it though, I’ve written a chapbook about Gena Rowlands and the films of John Cassavetes (coming out with Dancing Girl Press in 2015). I am also working on a chapbook that includes photographs and texts about Coney Island. One of my earlier chapbooks, The Subway Series, was written on the subway commuting back and forth to a job at a Thai restaurant. So I guess they often are on topics. Now that you’ve brought that to my attention, it might be interesting to create a chapbook that is not on a theme, a chap-length volume of discrete poems sometime in the near future.
Amanda Deutch is the author of four chapbooks: Morning, Gena Rowlands (DGP, 2015)
BOSS: Box of Sky (Dusie Kollektiv 3), Motel Drift, and The Subway Series. Recent work
has appeared or is forthcoming in Floormap, Revolver, Finery, Ping Pong, Bone Bouquet,
Denver Quarterly, Barrow Street, REVOLUTIONEsque, and elsewhere. She is the
founder and director of Parachute Literary Arts and lives in Brooklyn.
read BOSS: Box of Sky Skeleton here
nests hair refuge
this open chest
above my breasts
vast in stones
press to choose my fucks
ingenious, civil, entire
to faint in the museum of
one’s breath is the greatest risk—
to go out
dressed as the animal
in your skin, close to the
place, state of life
in your hair
step on up
you know what to do
(You always have.)