Reviews Logo
SearchHomeContents PageSite Map
Pavane for a Cyber-Princess
She Was There for Him the Last Time In Far Pale Clarity
Bruce Boston
Miniature Sun Press, chapbook
Miniature Sun Press, chapbook Quixsilver Press, broadside

Pavane for a Cyber-Princess
Bruce Boston
The chapbooks/broadside are available:
Pavane for a Cyber-Princess (chapbook)
$5.00, 200 copies, 125 numbered and signed, 26 lettered and signed

She Was There for Him the Last Time (chapbook)
$5.00, 125 numbered and signed
$7.00, 26 lettered and signed, 200 copies total [Pay Pal]
Checks payable to Brandon Totman.
Miniature Sun Press
PO Box 11002
Napa, California 94581

In Far Pale Clarity (broadside)
$4.00 150 copies, 125 numbered and signed
25 lettered and signed
Quixsilver Press (Due to publisher Robert Medcalf's untimely passing, order from Miniature Sun above)

Bruce Boston Website
ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: The Complete Accursed Wives
SF Site Review: After Magic
SF Site Review: Dark Tales & Light
SF Site Review: 3 Broadsides

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Trent Walters

Often when you read a review -- no matter who's writing, no matter how nice or cruel his words -- you've got to read between the lines without reading into the lines. When left to my own devices, I tend to take the back door to compliments, i.e. "We all hated him because he was a sexy bastard." It's lower class humor (not to be confused with lower intelligence, for it may at times be more intelligent than its upper class correlate which fears to get sullied by ridiculing itself though arguably it has more need to do so). A colleague of mine at Clarion was trying to say only African Americans did this, but I've done it for as long as I can remember, infuriating my poor, dear mother: "Would I like to take of the trash? Not really. Would I please? No." and then I'd take out the trash (this nefarious humor earned me the moniker "Trickster" among a few classmates at two Clarions, quite independently of one another -- a curious coincidence that didn't occur to me for a few months. Someone may write me to say, I'm lower class or I'm African American and we never did that. Well, maybe my Clarion pal and I are like when school is out: no class). This lower/no class predilection appears to have amplified recently in the search for a new life -- moving from medicine to Subway sandwiches -- so if you're high class, please humor me and read between the lines. If you can't,++ well, you probably shouldn't be reading poetry anyway unless it has "Best Loved" or "Beloved" in the title.

Bruce Boston has three long poems out now and its difficult to say which is best because they're very much the same, and very much different. "As far as the East is from the West" always puzzled me. At some point, the East becomes the West, doesn't it? So, too, is the difference between Pavane for a Cyber-Princess, She Was There for Him the Last Time and In Far Pale Clarity.

Either way, you will need to pull out your dictionary. Boston's better poems have become more and more a read-skies-at-night lexicographer's delight. Boston supplies the reason why I sometimes balk at always using the common man's vocabulary in "When the Wordmonger Screams" in his collection Short Circuits: "he could find no clean words, only those shrouded by mistory, up from the bog and down from the dung heap, trailing threads, string, fluff, second-hand, overused, underdone, parboiled, wearing thin..., doing it again, one more time, and again-and-again words." Though lexicography is not next to Godliness in poetry, it conveniently gives us our natural order in this review:

In Far Pale Clarity is something of an ironic misnomer, for the poem anchored in abstractions is anything but clear. If you've read it, you may have scratched your head and tossed it aside as pretentious (mostly because, if you will admit it, you didn't understand). When you buy poetry, it is for quality time -- a time equal to the time spent with a hundred-fold words, words you read again and again because the references and cross-references continue to pull you in as they become clearer. Some poems are what-you-see-is-what-you-get and aren't as rewarding as, like this one for myself, you have to read it, think on it, read it again, focus on stanzas, on lines, on the way the words are put together, and on the way they're split apart. I'm not making a case for difficult poems, but even poor, simple poems should be deceptively rich. A reader comes to poetry expecting to linger on the view, and if it doesn't reward the investment, the reader may not be inclined to sit through a second unveiling. This is no doubt why people untrained to observe the arts get bored at art galleries while their enthusiast buddies hang back. Some will never train themselves to observe and will never understand and will be forever subject to the whim of popular political rhetoric, to every damn commercial on the boob tube. Once trained, you're liable to get bored if there isn't more than meets the eye in a work of art. I once bought an art book and a relative used it as evidence I was throwing money away on books.

Luckily, Boston often rewards patience. I've read enough of him to rely on his not regurgitating a bunch of random words, expecting me to gorge on the resultant chaos for meaningful entertainment (though now that he's read this, he may do just that. Every artist rebels against the definitions of art -- a point I'll come to again with Pavane for a Cyber-Princess -- but hopefully artists have glazed over meaninglessness by now: isn't that what bestsellers are for?). Strangely, after nothing on three reads, my mind snagged on

all the fine colors
flee like lightning bugs and soldiers
into noir illumination
which reminded me of earlier stanzas, standing out clearly now as Boston's obvious statement:
black and white and
gradations of payne's gray
as the checkerboard excavations...

not titian red nor rubens rose
banish those cad yellows
and high Saracen blues
forget sienna and umber shades
slay evergreen...

"No shit, Sherlock," you speedy people say (and those of you with the benefit of my isolating lines). Speed of thought was never my virtue, I'm afraid. But Boston's statement of purpose lies in the brief refrain:
watch the bright blood flow
in chains of logic from [evergreen's] opened veins

for this is far pale clarity
in the dark's extension
this is pale certainty
etched in bone time
and stretched like a victim on the sand

this is ashen thought

The contrast of dark black and white images against those beauties of color is well-wrought: impressive selection. To rail against the black and white clarity of logic is the poem's strength and weakness1. It is almost too loose in its interpretive flow, for my taste. Yet we see glimmers of other, more specific applications as well: "where once we traversed/from one world to another." What literature does that remind you of? Unfortunately, no other text glimmers (you might claim the crustacean (Time Machine?) or other image piles on further allusions, but they stretch believability since they could allude to nearly anything. But does this detract from the poem? Of course not. I was distinguishing the poem from, say Frost's "Swinger of Birches." This is definitely a poem that repays the cost of its purchase in quality observation time. On the other hand, Boston has written a poem which comes close to ranking that high in my book....

In his "Introduction to 'The Simple Art of Murder'," Raymond Chandler writes, "The ideal mystery was one you would read if the end was missing." In other words, entertain us, dear writer. I would like to tag on the addendum that the work of genius can be read forward as well as backward, which is what She Was There for Him the Last Time quite literally attempts.

Expecting only another banal blurb, I was a little annoyed by finding Andrew Joron's explications on the back cover, which you might find in an introduction. I wish he had given us fair warning before telling us in the first sentence that the poem "is a... hymn to the muse as a harsh mistress."

I can tell you in a review because you'll forget by the time you read the poem and can always reference this review later... unless you have an eidetic memory, for which I'm grateful to have spoiled the poem's unraveling for you lucky bastards (but probably the eidetics rely too much on the picture of things rather than the meaning, I console myself). But if you've ever read Wallace Stevens, you probably wouldn't have needed Joron's insight anyway.

What makes the poem unusual apart from telling its story backward and a muse to the SF poet is a yet another layer of meaning. Double layers of meaning are fun. Triple is quite a trick: both for reader and writer. The first layer is the surface events, the second the muse's relation to the narrator, the third layer is that -- you eidetics who can actual think had better stop now and go buy the poem for yourselves -- this is truly mother nature leading the poet and humanity to their respective deaths:

"she was there to demarcate atrocities... who could assimilate the heat death of the plenum... she takes her shape from blood upon the sand"
Who but nature records our every deed? Our realization of this has dawned not only on our geological scientists but also belatedly on our criminals as their crimes remain indelible on the skeletons of the victims and their environment. You don't have to believe in a greater cosmic power to know your sins won't be forgotten, will "record every gesture and strike not a word... bearing a microphone like a staff."

We travel backwards in time with her as she metamorphoses alongside her fellow man intimating the fate to come that we were too dense to pick up on but is obvious in retrospection (hence one reason for the order):

she was there when he jousted incessantly
with the knights of the day...

until he heard the curses she muttered...
beyond the rasp of the mob's elation...

she was there as a conjuror's trick
passed down through the ages

one colored box inside another until the smallest
revealed an even smaller...
before its species could b classified
or its temperament defined...

she was old as the towers beneath
and the pit that lies beyond

trailing twigs and bent flowers and wet bits of soil
a grave intoxication clinging to her gown

I cannot see how Boston would not have known this was inherently in the poem, but if he didn't he's luckier than the eidetics. Truly, this is a spectacular feat of craftsmanship -- one I can't recall ever coming across in my reading: in or out of the genre. My only qualm for unadulterated praise is that the middle of the poem doesn't stand up to the genius at the beginning and end.

I'll save the little surprise of why she is not the Muse in the end though he no doubt meant to deceive us with the reverse order and section titles of the narrative section. If you own the poem and don't know why, email me and I'll respond. The two sections that didn't work as well for me were "environs" and "proem." I thought they could be combined and condensed. But I may be wrong. This may be the greatest long poem the genre has yet produced if I am. But it is difficult for anyone to sustain a long poem.

Some will lament the loss of privacy in what David Brin called our "transparent society", but it's about damn time people start considering consequences before they blithely sin against their brothers. Aren't you sick and tired of our aristocracies (be they kings/queens, medical deans, CEOs, or capitalistic and communistic presidents) dicking people over just because they can? Maybe when we realize the camera eye is focused on our misdeeds, we'll behave more honestly for once.

Like any human being, I can't divine every allusion. I prefer if the author can give the reader a hand, but he is by no means required to do. One of Rita Dove's better poems is titled "Parsley," but if you didn't know that was the word that fascist regime used to delineate wheat from chaff, you would miss a key element of the poem. I'm thankful to have read Tim Pratt's saying that Pavane for a Cyber-Princess was based on a dance. It led me to Ravel's "Pavane for a Dead Princess" which was originally a piano piece that became a concerto that eventually became a ballet. You can read about "Pavane for a Dead Princess" and listen to it (~28:30 into the program). Ravel named the work only because he liked the sound, which is convenient for Boston's allusion since he can take off in any direction from there. (When I asked Boston to verify that it was based on Ravel, he wrote back, "That's cheating!" I confess to my literary sluttiness of cheating on Boston, but I cheat only for you, my dear readers, to all of whom I remain forever faithful [reviewer breaks into power ballad by Journey].)

This might have easily been a favorite with its intriguing and fluid narrative of a frankenstein's cybernetic concubine, but a few snags prevented it from sealing the case. The first is the first line. It prevented me from wanting to read more: "Her exquisite cadaver"2. Prose readers will fail to understand, but poetry readers require the weight of every single word. No doubt, the majority of readers find the word "exquisite" exquisite, but it's space filler. One could have substituted "nice" or "pleasant" or "pretty" or "lovely," etc. and been just as happy. I probably wouldn't have noticed if it didn't occupy the primary position of the poem in the first line. It may just be my prejudice. Other reviewers quoted it as a wonderful line, so take my opinion with a grain of salt. Besides, once you get past it, your problems are over...

...unless you demand absolute beauty in your poems (forgive the reviewer, Father, for he knows not how he blasphemes) because this poem is horrible -- not horribly written but horribly clashes and jangles in a rhythm jerky and uneven. He mixes the hard "k" and "g" and "d" with the sibilant sounds of "s." Compare "She Was There for Him the Last Time" [~ = unstressed, people's scansion may vary some]:

she was there like running waters and the boast of the wind (` ~ ` ~ ` ~ ` ~ ` ~ ` ~ ~ `)
like the crescent of a bell clapping (` ~ ` ~ ` ~ ` ` ~)
the rush of the adder's strike (~ ` ~ ~ ` ~ `)

to Pavane for a Cyber-Princess:

Letters with hooks and eyelets (` ~ ~ ` ~ ` ~)
scavenged from ancient alphabets (` ~ ~ ` ~ ` ~ `)
(and their venerable antecedents) (` ~ ` ~ ` ~ ` ~ ` ~)
have been tethered and sutured (` ~ ` ~ ~ ` ~)
in the enlarged crystalline (` ~ ~ ` ` ~ `)
lattice of her cerebrum (` ~ ` ~ ~ ` ~)

The speckled rind of her integument (~ ` ~ ` ~ ~ ~ ` ~ `)

She Was There has a more or less natural trochee rhythm while Pavane mixes it with dactyl. It's like he lets you slide smoothly in your stocking feet, then jerks the tile out from under you with "scavenged" or "integument" or rhymes that end on different meters or changing up the meter mid-stream. Also, he mixes unlike languages -- English, French, Latinate, etc. -- which is English itself, but whoever thought English was the prettiest of languages?

How dare Boston write an ugly poem? How dare readers demand their poetry always be beautiful? Should every television station play only Hallmark movies and After-School Specials? Think about that first line I quoted you: what could be "exquisite" about a cadaver? a cadaver prostituted to the rich and abusive? You aren't supposed to like the beauty of this poem. If you find it beautiful, you probably like the unsyncopated ruckus of German brothels at their peak hours*:

"His image reflected back
from her faux-fawn-startled eyes"
which isn't that music isn't here in buried feminine near-rhymes (among other fun alliterations, assonances, and consonances "circus (circuits)"):

"She is the recurring imago
of an adolescent male libido at play."

If Boston's deservedly respected name weren't plastered to the cover, I wonder how many editors or readers would blanch at the sounds and pass. But since Boston is Boston, people will listen as if he still speaks in beauty though he speaks in horror -- no matter how straight forward he tells it.

At the end of each section, a glossary provides the dictionariophobes definitions like " 'Henchmen' as in 'chief executive officers.' " Not all are always so witty nor revealing: " 'Most pampered' as in 'combed and petted to the ends of trembling distraction.' " Still, it's an interesting experiment.

Boston wanted a blurb for Fictionwise who will soon be releasing this poem as an e-book -- a fair request considering I'd already told him I had enjoyed the poem. Unfortunately, I bungle blurb-ese. Tim Pratt, a fine writer in his own right who would sell more with his finesse than I but with whom I couldn't disagree more for why you should buy this poem, writes, "The poem is beautifully done, as stately and elegant as the dance from which it takes its name." I think the poem sells itself and if you're a Slan and aren't induced by the following, chances are you're an exquisite cadaver yourself*:

Her exquisite cadaver
rises from a laboratory table,
the fascia of her reconstructed spine
arching in a sensuous circumflex
that could pique the interest
of the most jaded lover.
Perhaps the most annoying aspect of these three poems is that it looks like a fifth (or is it sixth?) Boston's Greatest Hits (i.e. "Selected Works of") is in order. Maybe we should wait another decade? But then, if he keeps up this pace, what publisher could afford to publish it?

1 "The poem's intent is not 'to rail against the black and white clarity of logic' as it is to portray the difference between passionate involvement and logical reflection, and how memory loses the emotional reality and rich detail of the former and embraces the simplified and removed reality of the latter. The most obvious and instantaneous example can be found in sex, at least for men. There is an immediate and profound change in emotional perspective from the moment before orgasm to the moment after. Freud believed that every orgasm (the male one) represented both a kind of death and a castration (see the last line of the poem). However, it also represents a rebirth, for the individual that exists after orgasm is a different person, with different interests, feelings, and needs, than the one that existed moments before. And in a very real sense, one who can no longer feel or really know (except intellectually) the emotion that so recently consumed its consciousness completely."

2 Regarding "exquisite cadaver," Boston enlightens the reviewer, not in its allusion but in its elaboration, "The term originally refers to a Surrealist party game in which one person would start a poem at the top of a page, fold that part over, and pass the page on to another person, who would add a line or two, and then pass it on again. The result would be a poem composed of bits and pieces from many different sources, just like the Frankenstein monster, and in this case, like the Cyber-Princess, who is so conglomerate that she can be seen as representing snatches from all of history that has preceded her, including the historically determined roles of the sexes. Many 'exquisite corpse' poems have been published, even some in the genre field." All of which is true and only adds to my evaluating the Frankenstein sound to its meter. But since the poem is speculative by nature, one cannot help but transpose another layer on top of this: that the human species, should it continue to prefer propagation with non-living simulacra, is doomed.

3 "These sections are intended to extend the metaphors, similes, and allusions of the poem further, to add complexity and subtlety of meaning rather than diffuse it. The very last stanza does this for the entire poem.

Thus these definitions might be seen as introducing branching symbols in a tree of meaning that continues to grow, and in truth, could grow indefinitely beyond the poem. Again, I'd refer you to the introduction to J.E. Cirlot's Dictionary of Symbols. I reread this every four or five years just so I don't forget what language is and how it functions." I agree that the experiment does just that, most of the time.

* Pardon the reviewer's ad hominem attacks on the in absentia opponent of Bruce Boston. They're simply to elicit an illicit chuckle or two.

Just because other reviewers don't allow writers to respond doesn't mean that it shouldn't be done: see "argumentum ad populum" on your lists of common fallacies. Writer and reviewer don't have to see eye-to-eye, so long as they can justify their arguments. If you see it as a writer being defensive, then is the critic the only person allowed to have a say in a writer's legacy? That's horse puckey. Give a logical, non-fallacious answer why he shouldn't, apart from the writer failing to speak intelligently, in which case the reviewer shouldn't quote him unless the reviewer means to humiliate him. I may be a Trickster, but a cruel bastard I ain't though I may play one on TV. Besides, a little intelligent debate with multiple perspectives is a helluva lot more enlightening than your regular blurb-ese babble, anyway. Finally, even though Boston wrote it, it's out of his hands: not that our disagreements are major, but where we do disagree, you may assume he is in the wrong because, as they say in the cartoon industry -- and you may quote me on this when speaking with Boston -- pbbbbt!

++ If you still can't tell when I'm joking, follow this handy rule of thumb: if it sounds mean, it's a joke -- though I am deadly serious when I say to quote me to Boston.

Copyright © 2003 Trent Walters

Trent Walters' work has appeared or will appear in The Distillery, Fantastical Visions, Full Unit Hookup, Futures, Glyph, Harpweaver, Nebo, The Pittsburgh Quarterly, Speculon, Spires, Vacancy, The Zone and blah blah blah. He has interviewed for, Speculon and the Nebraska Center for Writers. More of his reviews can be found here. When he's not studying medicine, he can be seen coaching Notre Dame (formerly with the Minnesota Vikings as an assistant coach), or writing masterpieces of journalistic advertising, or making guest appearances in a novel by E. Lynn Harris. All other rumored Web appearances are lies.

SearchContents PageSite MapContact UsCopyright

If you find any errors, typos or anything else worth mentioning, please send it to
Copyright © 1996-2014 SF Site All Rights Reserved Worldwide