Todd Boss's new book of poems, 'Pitch,' serves up subtle music from a young master.

Pitch By Todd Boss Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc. 112 pp.

Readers and critics who have eagerly awaited Todd Boss’s second book of poems will not be disappointed. Pitch is a fabulous follow-up to “Yellowrocket,” Boss’s acclaimed 2008 debut. 

The keys to success in “Pitch” can be seen in the wonderful poem “Overtures on an Overturned Piano” which opens beautifully, with lines that are precise and engaging:

From farm to farm
and one more
midnight mile to go
my father took
too fast the last turn
 – on black ice –
and presto,
over the side of our half-
ton Ford and into
the drainway went my
father’s father’s brother’s
turn-of-the-century Steinway

Boss describes his mother’s scream as the truck “careened around” and the piano lay “moaning chaotically/ in every key....”

As the poem progresses, two men unexpectedly arrive in a Chevy Chevette, and Boss also raises questions about his father’s reaction to the mishap and possible subconscious motives. Throughout “Overtures” – and the collection – the reader shifts from admiration to chuckles and back. Boss flawlessly employs subtle music, and he portrays events and people without overplaying his hand, leaving readers feeling that they, like the piano, have suffered only minor damage.

In the book’s third section, for example, Boss writes about the tension between a wife and her mother-in-law, both of whom want to occupy center stage in the husband/son’s life. One woman tries to wean the man while the other aims for a weak spot; yet because the writing is so accurate and apt, the result is memorable, not maudlin. The same is true where Boss describes the sense of loss his wife felt when they decided not to have a third child. Boss maintains his balance, as he does in “My Love for You is So Embarrassingly,” where he compares his feelings for his spouse to the Hindenburg. (Yes, it works.) 

“Pitch” mixes familiar ground – love, the family farm in Wisconsin – with new territory, as with Boss’s dog poems and his “Marble Tumble Toys,” where words move the way that marbles did on classic toys.

In other places, Boss considers missed opportunities or recalls overlooked lives. He also broaches the topic of God, as in “The World Is in Pencil.” There, Boss considers the Creator’s efforts –“It had to be a labor/ of love” – and concludes that “I’ll bet it felt good/ In the hand....”

“Pitch” feels good in the hand as well.

Elizabeth Lund reviews poetry for The Christian Science Monitor and The Washington Post.

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