As a poet in Raleigh, Alice Osborn wrestles with themes that have hounded writers from the time of chisels and stone: the weary nature of life, the fitful path of love, the steady creep of death.
And like any bard worth the price of parchment, Osborn’s words spring straight from her own inky-fingered history, the Marvel comics consumed as a child, the intergalactic dramas that informed her adolescence.
What I’m getting at here, in a roundabout, flowery way, is that Alice Osborn writes “Star Wars” poetry, told from the point of view of the space characters that still inhabit her brain and decorate her wardrobe as a 40ish mother of two. Specifically, she imagines the helmet-faced bounty hunter Boba Fett as a recovering alcoholic searching for meaning at a Chik-Fil-A in Hickory.
“My spent leg drags over the brown tile,
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as graceful as a Bantha.
Sure, the Mandalorian body armor holds
my knee together, but I’m getting too old for this crap.”
Her collection of poems, “Heroes Without Capes,” reveals a gallery of cherished characters at their emotional low points, struggling to find new life after grabbing the wrong end of life’s light saber. Princess Leia cheats on Han Solo. Darth Vader dreads being chewed out by the emperor. Boba Fett travels through time and galaxies only to land in New Orleans just in time for Hurricane Katrina, then escapes to Raleigh where he stalks the wine aisle at Harris Teeter.
“I wanted it to be about flawed heroes,” she said. “My flawed heroes, seen through my lens.”
A writing coach, editor and Irish dancer, Osborn gravitated to this subject matter via her own childhood “Star Wars” obsession. She nurtured her mania in the days before chat rooms and fan pages, reading monthly comic books that arrived in the mail. Decades later, she still wears a skirt decorated with X-wings and the Death Star.
She describes her youth in Northern Virginia as fairly lonesome, her family life as cold and structured as a boarding school. “Star Wars” and its slowly unfolding drama gave her something to anticipate, a world into which she could escape. In one poem she calls autobiographical, Osborn’s father rips up her “Star Wars” no. 65 comic – the issue with Leia and her blaster on the cover.
Her own verse emerged in the eighth grade, much of it concerning geese. Two years later, she won second place in her high school’s poetry contest for a three-page epic on King Arthur composed on dot-matrix paper.
“I still have the trophy,” she said.
Decades later, the heroes of her book – not just “Star Wars” characters but also the Roadrunner from Warner Brothers cartoons and Ser Jorah from “Game of Thrones” – stay true to personal codes even when their pop culture worlds have knocked them flat, persevering even though they are chased by coyotes, exiled from Westeros or, in Boba Fett’s case, get unceremoniously shoved into the mouth of the Sarlacc monster.
“So here I am in a stomach chamber,” Fett laments in an Osborn poem,
“full of acidic spores, smelling of sour milk.
Will my armor keep me from breaking like a cracker?”
Osborn appreciates a subject like Boba Fett because he is at once familiar and foreign – a faceless mystery with room for a poet to flesh out. She guesses that her admiration stems from Fett’s tenacity: He never sucks up to Darth Vader, he plays no favorites and he insists on getting paid – something a freelancer accustomed to waiting for checks can appreciate.
In Osborn’s hands, the mysterious space mercenary appears as a jaded and vulnerable. Princess Leia as Fett’s lover seems conflicted, guilty, staring into her own Dark Side. “How do you sleep with the man who sold Han to the highest bidder – twice?” she asks herself.
In “Heroes without Capes,” even Darth Vader comes off as swelled with regret.
Her book, which she reads from Wednesday at So & So Books in Raleigh, is a treat for the titles alone: “Boba Fett in AA,” “Boba Fett Tries Some Networking,” “I Slept with Boba Fett.”
But in a greater sense, Osborn gives us a world where light and dark meet, where the battles aren’t settled and where characters walk away after the credits roll, wondering what comes next.
Alice Osborn will read her “Star Wars” poetry and other works at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday at So & So Books, 704 N. Person St., and at 2 p.m. Sunday at Dancing Moon Books, 1840 Wake Forest Rd. in Raleigh. Both events also feature her guitar playing. For more about her work and other event dates, see aliceosborn.com