BOOK: Tough Luck

Todd's third poetry collection with W. W. Norton & Company, Tough Luck, includes all thirty-five 35-word poems that make up "Fragments for the 35W Bridge" from his "Project 35W" installation.

The title refers to two poems, "When My Mother Says Tough Luck," and "When My Father Says Toughen Up," selected for Best of the Net.

The book's publication coincides with Todd's tenth consecutive Pushcart Prize nomination. Tough Luck includes poems that first appeared in American Poetry Review, Poetry, Terrain, Georgia Review, Alaska Quarterly Review, and National and Minnesota Public Radio.

For their support, Todd is grateful to W. W. Norton editor Jill Bialosky and literary agent Nancy Stauffer.

“[W]idely regarded as one of the best poets of his generation. . . . [Boss] us[es] brilliant wordplay and portray[s] the people and landscape of his childhood in Wisconsin with clarity and hard-edged grace.”

Washington Post

“Bookended with poems about what persists and what crumbles . . . Boss's poems have a distinct―and satisfying―rhythm.”

Star Tribune

“Boss is a poet to watch, likely to prove one of the leading voices of the next decade. Readers may be drawn into this collection for the poems that touch on disaster and divorce, but they'll stay for the memorable verses on nature and memory.”

Library Journal, starred review

“It’s deeply satisfying to be swept into the music that scores Todd Boss’s third book, Tough Luck, to delight in the song of everyday speech refreshed and refined through sly rhyme. It is deeply transporting to be ferried across the river of his metaphors, to arrive at places logical yet magical. And it’s deeply delightful to walk in the world of Boss’s objects―a wall-mounted coffee grinder, an old farm sled, and unused Scrabble tiles ‘sitting there in their tray like dumbstruck parishioners.’ Tough Luck is funny and philosophical and wry and large-hearted, and it’s our great good luck to have it.”

Beth Ann Fennelly

“A latter-day avatar of no ideas but in things, Todd Boss charms, and sometimes instructs, and sometimes simply awes the reader with mouthfuls of language ‘like the clop of the walnut / block beneath the gavel of the // judge who fits the punishment / to the crime.’ Language and things, things of farm and town, of disaster and love and orange peels: he’s married them.”

Alicia Ostriker, author of The Old Woman, the Tulip, and the Dog

The opening poems from the collection recall Todd's childhood on a Wisconsin farm:

When My Mother Says Tough Luck

it’s like the rough tongue of

leather in a boot somehow,

the way you dig your

thumb in there when it gets

stuck to curl it out again

against the topside

of your foot and pull it flat

so you can truss it up,

or like the slap of milk

on milk in a metal bucket

carried up the ramp

to be dumped in the bulk-

house tank with the rest,

or the clank of the bucket

handle against the bucket’s

flank once the milk’s

poured out and the bucket’s

done its chore, or like the

prayer a shucked off pair

of garden gloves cough

softly when they’re chucked

from the hand and land

filthy on the back porch floor.


Its fine



my mother

fed my





into her



as if its


could be


costs &



to our



floor &



to nothing

a shop tool’s


Line Dried Laundry

is by lifting and

lifting in

wind awhile en-

livened, sheets

crispened, denim


kitchen cottons

more apt to

cotton to ab-

sorption as if

from one

hour in sun

they’d re-learned

thirst or some-

thing. You

might be for-

given if in

your imagination

wind and light

acquired a


with or without

your intention.

You might be

forgiven for


between your

thumb and fore-

finger for-

ever some


recollection of

wooden pins

in all their



You might even

run a hand

over an idle

pump handle

one day

as if to say

I knew you when.

But look at me,

talking to

farmers again.

When My Father Says Toughen Up

it’s like the clop of the walnut

block beneath the gavel of the

judge who fits the punishment

to the crime, or like the pop of the

velveteen seedpod of the lupine

finally scattering its ordnance of

shot amongst the hollyhock,

or like the aftershock of a

Massey Ferguson engine cut off

too hot, that chuff out the muffler

that echoes off the pole barn

sharp as a whooping cough,

or like the upstart of a startled

ruffed grouse thumping into

flight right beside you on a walk,

or like the hard clap on the back

you get when you choke, as if

to congratulate you. He doesn’t

say it to berate you, he says it to

hike you up an inch or two, like

when he took you by the collar

when you were little to zip you

into that boiled wool jacket he

sent you out to chores with,

or like the high salute we send

soldiers to wars with.

For an Old Runner

Last time I was out to the farm, I found

a sleigh runner made of timber, banded in iron,

rusting in the machine shop under the granary.

It was my father’s father’s father’s father’s,

and I know I had no business bringing it home

without asking Donny—my second cousin, who

owns and farms the land around the abandoned

farmstead now—but here it hangs, cross-wise

on a wall in my study. Its blunted nose 18 hands

high, it arcs above my head, and when I reach

to touch it—as for want of the feel of old wood I

will from time to time—I might as well be handling

one of the horses that hauled it, its neck a rough

relic, so rough it’s almost smooth with roughness,

its whole body—in the wall beside me imaginary—

haunch-heavy but simultaneously holding

weightlessly still for me, eyes steady, ears keen,

and ready the way horses are always ready, even

stolen horses, even horses one has never driven,

never even seen.

Tough Luck, now in paperback, can be ordered wherever you buy your books.

Todd is grateful to the following for support of his work: Forecast Public Art, The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, The McKnight Foundation, The Metropolitan Regional Arts Council of/and The Minnesota State Arts Board, The National Endowment for the Arts, The San Francisco Arts Commission, and the Warhol Foundation, as well as individual commissions and supporters on Patreon


Copyright 2020 Todd Boss. All rights reserved.