His Name is Donald: Mike Smith on Donald Revell’s The Bitter Withy

The Bitter Withy, Donald Revell, Alice James Books, 2009

Given that it appeared a mere two years after his sublime A Thief of Strings, it is possible to regard Donald Revell’s new collection, The Bitter Withy, as mere addendum to that important book. For if Revell were as much an heir to Wallace Stevens’s publishing practice as he is to Stevens’s lyricism, he might have merely attached the poems of The Bitter Withy to his own very own Harmonium. That would have been a mistake. At once more uniform and less ambitious, but with almost as large an emotional register, if The Bitter Withy is a quieter achievement, it nonetheless perfects the idiom of A Thief of Strings to great advantage in individual poems. And if a majority of readers decide that A Thief of Strings is the more important book, it is equally possible that many will find themselves more intensely moved by the poems of The Bitter Withy. Revell’s gaze is deceptively (un)adorned, and capable of great zooms, inserting or removing tracts of distance. These poems look at the world of human life realistically, palpably nostalgic for old consolations and greater capacities for wonder, consolations and capacities that can be approached now only through submission, a careful and powerful quiet that Revell both achieves and instills.

In fact, it may be that in addition to the greater number of individually successful poems in The Bitter Withy, this new book proves that the proper length and form of this new idiom of Revell’s is the 14-line sonnet that might now more fruitfully be compared to Berryman’s Songs than the late-career sonnets of Berryman’s friend and rival, Robert Lowell, which, for all their loose architecture and looser materials, still seem overly-tied to the pentameter. Like Berryman, Revell has evolved a frame malleable and restrained enough to house this new voice and perspective. The sonnet form dominates The Bitter Withy even more than it did A Thief of Strings, since there are no long poems in this new collection equal in length or ambition to the long poems of its predecessor, especially if you read, as I do, the 14-sonnet cycle for Robert Creeley in that book as “one solid block.”

No, it is the shorter poems in which Revell’s evolved, now unmistakable, voice finds itself most at home and it is the sonnets, in particular, that best showcase the enduring virtues of Revell’s idiom: its friendly and conversational tone, the childlike constructions (which proceed from a renewed emphasis on simplicity and openness to the natural world), the quiet riddling and subdued surprise, the packed (away) metaphors that lead into, most often, generalizations of suffering, belief, and the joy and wonder of mere survival, the challenge and contentment of letting the world just happen. Add to these characteristics the non-sequiters that discomfit rather than amuse, the penchant for direct statement and direct address, and you end up with a voice just sonorous enough that you want to let it get away with saying anything. More often than not, it does. Take for example, the opening lines to “Tools,” the first poem of the collection:

Just at dawn the full moon
In its coin of rainbow
Called my name. I’d been cold…

And then I wasn’t cold anymore.
I have a name, and it isn’t a problem.

It’s effortless how the coin, the basest of tools we call treasure, glosses the rainbow that has no end. The moon has to be full, doesn’t it, for the spell to work? Not just because it catches more of the sun’s rays, but that, in its clockwork precision, it shouts loudest his name. “Tools” introduces one of the most frequent tropes at work in the book. How many of these poems give us one of those “momentary wonders if more briefly now” in which the speaker achieves the (Christ-like) peace of pure reaction to the occurrence of the world? If the world needs him to suffer love, he will suffer. If it needs him to laugh, he will throw back his head.

Probably even greater than sentimentality, the danger these poems flirt with is a flabby kind of flatness. Flatness and the illusion (Berryman?) that anything can be brought in to this form and dealt with equally effortlessly. The poem “Flight,” which, unfortunately, comes early in the collection, succumbs to both of these dangers.

The enormous man selling
Over the airplane telephone while below us
An emptiness made of ten million stones
Of mist (or is it the sun haze,
The exhalation of a star in every stone?)
Prepares his soul and my soul
For heaven and for heavens.
It is 2004 and 140 A.D.
Juvenal’s Satires find America.
No cede malis. We are killing
Everyone not here.

I miss the wonder and the wondering, the witness without the judgment, the capability of this same voice to approach the earnestness and artifice of gospel. I’ll take Mark over Matthew, and not just because he claims to have been there, and I can’t help but contrast this poem with the sublime “Nemesis,” which appears a few pages later.

A man removes the animal from his eye;
And the animal dies—
Reluctant symmetry.
When I was alone I traveled
The entire way around the Earth on snow.
I was fast.

The other side of this coin, though, is one of the chief virtues of Revell’s voice: Its ranginess. The same extended breath can give us everything from dialectical meditations to articulations of devotion and death at home in any Renaissance anthology, to homely and homey poems of miner (minor?) epiphanies to survivor poems that find or fail to find analogies for the human predicament in the natural world. As I said, Revell is an honest heir to Stevens, but also to early Creeley and any number of Elizabethan poets, though there is more of him in Gascoigne than Donne. He is, often in the same poem, occasionally in the same line, political, amorous, post-romantic, bucolic, post-LANGUAGE, realistic, associative, discursive, and most eloquent, perhaps, when communicating religious feeling. In fact, it will be tempting for readers of The Bitter Withy to claim for it a familiar theology in its preoccupation with Judeo-Christian terminology, narratives, and questions; in Revell’s emphasis on solace, however it comes, in his capacity for pity, attraction to redemptions, and in the book’s Wordsworthian intimations of a larger world. But the source of the title poem of the collection, unfortunately one of the least memorable, is a medieval hymn that emphasizes the susceptible humanity of the Christ child, and is decidedly outside the canons, as is St. Eustace’s vision which concludes “The Rabbits,” a close second to “Crickets” (It might be a photo-finish) as the finest longish short poem of the collection. Indeed, the poem and book are attracted to solace, however it comes. The perspective that comes through is of one for whom sitting at the table is a deliberate choice, and enough.

I want to expand on this by looking at three connected poems, almost a triptych, you might say, that occur almost exactly midway through the book: “The Lay of Smoke,” “The Lay of Wood,” and “The Lay of Water.” Here’re some lines from “The Lay of Smoke,” the first of the three poems:

As if we were rabbits
All that’s needed for any heaven
Is death and damage and a ditch

It’s telling of Revell’s survivor’s sense of himself as both body and being in the world that “damage” follows “death,” just as “humiliation” follows “death” in the second poem, “The Lay of Wood.”

Yellowbird, I pray for change…
… … …

Even as each day
The changes prove more terrible,
More set upon death and humiliation
Even the humiliation of mountains.

It’s even more telling that both lists end with the Earth itself. Reading these three poems, I asked myself the last time I’d encountered a better articulation of the problem and persistence of faith than these three poems. Wood, water, and air. The tools and trappings are familiar, but somehow they don’t seem worn out in Revell’s capable hands: wood of the cross, water of life and the promise of renewal, rebirth, and the airiness of the hope of reward. The problem of faith is inescapable, and Revell’s rearticulation and solution in the third poem, “The Lay of Water,” is positively Kierkegaardian:

Love fails and never fails.
Christ couldn’t bear it, but we must.
We must walk on water and through a woodland too.
The actual past weeps from future wounds.
We have children,
And the children live on air.

(A grammarian’s note: The number of punctuated sentences in the first poem is zero. There are nine in the second poem and sixteen in the third. I’m not sorry to say it took me three readings to notice.)

But Revell is sensitive to more than just the role of the natural world in the faulty formation of the human experience of faith. The very next poem, “Under the Rail Way Bridge in Albi,” presents for us both an example of the evocative power of artifact and our capacity for transforming into symbol the things of this world, in this case the composites of a garden scene in a photograph of the “actual past.”

Can you smell it,
Woodsmoke inside the camera?
… … …

I forget the garden waste on fire
Which is happiness, which becomes
Small snow falling across my world.

A transformation (transubstantiation) occurs: The ash of refuse from the lost garden, the “garden I have forgotten” becomes through processes of life and time and art the grace of “small snow falling across my world.” And two pages later, we get another poem on another photograph of snow from the actual past, a poem which approaches pure depiction, further refined, which shows Revell at his spare best, the voice quieted almost to the point of silence:

Snow so very
Small so welcome,
A whited tree
Comes to me.

This is monk’s music, a meditative determination to receive with greater openness and less judgment. And direct observation leads, as it almost always does with Revell, to direct statement:

These are islands,
Imperiled generations
So very small
In their mid-air,
Mid-oceans of air.

… … …

Small as snow,
Death is a window
Open at the beginning,
Open at the very end.

I wonder how many poems Revell would have to write in this new idiom for them to become rote. Eventually, of course, each subsequent poem would diminish its predecessors, but there’s no danger of that yet. Certainly, each one is necessary and welcome in this book. And I am convinced that together they will make one of the more enduring poetries to emerge in the first decade of our still-new century.

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Light at the End of the Revolution: Cheryl Klein on Ruins by Achy Obejas

Achy Obejas, Ruins, Akashic Books, 2009

NPR’s The Story recently aired a segment about a Cuban-American man visiting his parents’ birthplace for the first time. In his introduction, the host informed us that Cuban parents tell their American children one of two things: that Cuba is a ruined country run by a terrible dictator, or that it’s home.

In Ruins, Cuban-born novelist Achy Obejas takes on such binary thinking. For her protagonist, Usnavy (named for the pre-revolution U.S. Navy ships his mother spotted in the harbor), Cuba is home because he lives there and always has, from his days as a young revolutionary to his present life as a middle-aged bodega worker. But it’s hardly the homeland idealized by exiles or, for that matter, by left-leaning Americans who sing the praises of free healthcare (it’s free, yes, but anesthetic is a luxury).

Usnavy’s Cuba is one where people hustle for tourist dollars to buy meat and marinate strips of wool blanket when they can’t afford to. Usnavy is disgusted by what his country has become and by what it seems to want to become (American). He’s not so much a diehard communist as he is a loyal innocent and would-be intellectual stuck in his ways: He believes in working hard for the good of the people and not relying on illegal shortcuts to get ahead.

This is also potentially his downfall, as his stubbornness increasingly alienates him from even his wife and teenage daughter, who is itching for adventure beyond the confines of her parents’ crumbling and claustrophobic apartment. And so Usnavy begins his own adventure as he tries to fix and sell Tiffany lamps salvaged from the old colonial buildings that collapse in every Havana rainstorm.

This particular venture suits him—though his goal is money, the lamps themselves are as colorful and ephemeral as a revolutionary dream, and his curiosity yields revelations about Louis Comfort Tiffany, Cuban history and, eventually, his own origins. It’s fascinating for readers too—Obejas’ take on Cuba feels like an insider’s perspective, neither poverty porn nor propaganda. Sometimes she lets her research get the best of her, though, sprinkling the narrative with interesting facts that don’t quite belong.

Ironically, the Tiffany lamp plot and its accompanying light metaphors are sometimes less than illuminating. I kept trying to glean an allegory but never arrived at a satisfactory one. And maybe that’s fine, given the book’s many pleasures of character and image. But I felt most clued into Obejas’ themes during a scene in which Usnavy’s drunken friend recounts sleeping with a South African transvestite:

“She wasn’t like the locas here,” Jacinto said. “She had lived like that all her life. Where she came from, in her tribe, if she acted like a woman, if she really believed she was a woman, well…she was…”

…Usnavy wanted to know more about how this could happen, how believing so much could transcend something so real.

Usnavy is thinking, specifically, of another friend’s son, who has emigrated to Miami and transitioned to female. But the notion that belief can become reality is central to the novel. On one hand, it’s a lie: For decades Usnavy and much of Cuba have believed in revolutionary ideals, only to see their country wither in isolation. On the other, faith in dreams—in the beauty that a certain kind of light or thought can lend a mundane world—is what makes life, if not always change, possible.

I saw Obejas speak at a book fair panel, and she said that she’s gotten some flack from Cubans about the title, which, it’s true, would not exactly lure tourists, if Cuba were in the business of luring tourists. But after reading the novel, it’s clear that the term isn’t meant as an insult either. Ruins are a place of loss, but also of discovery and history. They’re ripe for a kind of melancholic meandering that first-world countries could use a bit more of. Reading Obejas’ novel, which unfolds like a lazy walk after a rainstorm, is a good place to start.

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They Dreamed Their Words Would Last a Thousand Years: James Reiss on Jay W. Baird’s Hitler’s War Poets

Hitler’s War Poets: Literature and Politics in the Third Reich, Jay W. Baird, Cambridge University Press, 2009

The first three words in the title of Jay W. Baird’s new critical study are, to some extent, oxymoronic. You don’t need to go so far as to define poets as peace-loving “unacknowledged legislators of the world” to see that writers serving Hitler as their hero and their Muse were as anachronistic a species as dodos trying to fly. One of the major virtues of Baird’s book is the way it sheds light on how crucial propaganda from versifiers–-Nazi versions of today’s bloggers and spin doctors—is to any political party. Throughout history poetry has served politics: “The Aeneid” was to Rome what “The Faerie Queen” was to Queen Elizabeth—and Philip Roth’s novel, “The Plot Against America,” was to the Bush administration. If Baird spends an overabundance of time on the life stories of now-obscure verse mongers, it may partly be to illustrate how the devil is in the details of everyday life; how any one of us, enamored of a charismatic leader or an article of faith, could grow up to become a demagogue. All the more power to us if we’re writers as gifted as Milton, who spent most of his career spreading the good word about the satanic Lord Cromwell. Nevertheless, during the Third Reich the pen appears not to have been mightier than the sword; the German writers in Baird’s book may have roused Hitler’s rabble, but they ultimately had less effect on his regime than they may have wished.

The cover photo of “Hitler’s War Poets” shows a bespectacled young man sporting the subtlest Mona Lisa smile and a look that can only be described as “sensitive.” If you ignored his Waffen SS cap and double rune collar tags, you could easily mistake him for a 30-something freundlich guy you might expect to find at a poetry reading.

Truth be told, this innocuous-looking fellow, Eberhard Wolfgang Möller, is one of the half-dozen writers Jay Baird focuses on in his unique, encyclopedically jam-packed, slender tome, “Hitler’s War Poets.” Baird’s central thesis that poets who flourished under the Third Reich were mainly egregious pen pushers may, as I’ve hinted, sound obvious nowadays. At the time, however, the audience for these poets was large, perhaps larger than the audience for American poets today. German-speaking readers flocked to buy copies of books that extolled their Führer and lambasted his nemeses. Seventy-plus years ago the Nazis who placed “Arbeit macht frei” over the entry gates of concentration camps were part of a horde eager to read about lazy Jews, Poles, and gypsies. Given Hitler’s Weltanschauung, it’s remarkable that one of his Third Reich poets is eminently readable in 2010.

In the 1930s and ’40s Möller was regaled, then reviled, as a playwright-cum-poet of the German Volk. The fact that in “Coriolanus” Shakespeare referred to something like the British Volk derisively as “the many-headed multitude” suggests an Elizabethan/Jacobean skepticism, even cynicism, about common citizens (whom American poetaster Edgar Guest sappily referred to as “just folks”), absent in early twentieth-century Germany. Möller and his colleagues were convinced they could revive the moribund Geist of the German people after the fiasco of The Great War by stressing their identity as Nordic warriors and embracing National Socialism as the way out of Germany’s predicament.

But before you mistake Möller, whom Baird dubs “Hitler’s Muse,” for a Luger-toting hack capable of tossing off only jingoist ditties, here are a couple of his opening stanzas from “Der Tote,” which Baird translates as “The Corpse” (1940):

I have soil over my lips,
A big stone is in my mouth.
A gentle mole is moving in my ribs
and is my friend. I am no longer alone.
I lie still and cannot move
and do not know if I am even myself.
But I am not thirsty, the rain soaks me
and many roots are growing through me. (pp. 199-200)

And keeping in mind that Baird’s free-verse translations lose a lot of the musical power of their original’s metrically regular rhyming quatrains in German, here are some lines from “Der Sterbende” (“The Dying,” 1941) that describe a soldier at death’s door:

He lay in a little wagon,
I saw his mouth;
he trembled gently without crying out
like a woman giving birth.

His body was torn and bloody,
it was death that he was bearing,
and beads of sweat
rolled off his mangled hair.

His eyes quietly circled,
as if they were ashamed that he suffered so.
Then a comrade cried over him,
and the whole world cried with him. (pp. 202-03)

Möller may lack the terrific mega-amperage Wilfred Owen deployed in one of the greatest anti-war poems in English, “Dulce et Decorum Est,” but Möller’s close attention to detail, his daring comparison of death to delivery, his dirt-simple diction, and most of all the transcendent sentiment expressed in his last lines all suggest the redoubtable powers of a poet who nonetheless remains forgotten.

To be sure, “Der Tote” and “Der Sterbende” represent Möller at the tag end of his career. During his heyday in the 1930s he’d written his share of anti-Semitic, Aryan claptrap, mainly plays, which were vastly popular. But by the time Hitler’s war cries, echoed in the Nazi anthem, the “Horst Wessel Song,” turned into pitched battles, Möller began to look beyond the swastika. As Baird notes, “More and more he saw the war from the perspective of his own aesthetic vision, less and less from the point of view of ideology” (p. 199). In fact, he survived a virtual death sentence—the German High Command posted him to the Russian front as a war reporter—and lived into his sixties, only to die in obscurity; this is all the more reason why his story needs to be told here.

“Hitler’s War Poets” is apparently the first book in English to deal with Third Reich writers. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Germans have not been eager to take up the work of nationalist writers such as Möller, and unlike that of such expatriates as Thomas and Heinrich Mann and Bertold Brecht, American scholars and general readers have ignored stay-at-home German writers of the 1930s and ’40s. Unfortunately “Hitler’s War Poets” introduces no other poet of Möller’s distinction. The work by the five other writers discussed here pretty much conforms to predictable stereotypes. Take the rakish, volatile street fighter with a face scarred from dueling, Kurt Eggers. He certainly must have appealed to the Führer with the following lines from “Ein Feuerspruch” (“A Plea for Fire”) (1941):

You, my brothers,
Take the torch
And lighten the darkness!
Set fire to the rotten world of lies
And light the flame of zeal!
Drive out with light and fire,
The spooks,
The sorcerers and conjurers
The bewitched in the darkness. . . (p. 241)

Although these lines served Nazi ideology in crying out for the elimination of Christianity—as officially detested as Judaism and Bolshevism—even considering the piece as more of a “chorus” than a poem per se, the writing is cliché-ridden drivel. As Baird notes, “The works of Kurt Eggers. . .were characterized more by revolutionary passion than intellectual depth” (p. 229). More than Möller, however, the short, Sturm-und-Drang-tossed story of Eggers’s life is riveting. Baird dismisses Eggers’s writing, focusing instead on how young Kurt, with wealthy parents, grew up on a farm, became an urban urchin, then studied to be, of all things, a Lutheran minister, although, alas, he was not one for long. He renounced his position as a man of the cloth to become Berlin’s man of the world, an officer in the SS Race and Settlement Central Office. While turning out numerous books of Nazi agitprop, he found time to earn his doctorate and serve the Wehrmacht’s Panzer division with Dionysian glee before dying in combat in Russia at age 37.

None of Hitler’s other war poets faced Valhalla as early as Eggers. The others managed to escape the Spruchkammern (post-war denazification courts) and survive as “disappointed old (men)” (p. 95). For that matter, the writers included in Baird’s study were not primarily poets. They mainly wrote fiction and essays, although each of them tried his hand at Nationalist poetry. Perhaps more important than the question of the accuracy of Baird’s title, I find it interesting that they were drawn to write poetry for the Party, as though lyrics and ballads did crucial cultural work that couldn’t be done merely in fiction and essays.

One salient feature of “War Poets,” which could be subtitled “Hitlerature,” is its photographs of each author. If Möller looks like a bookish chum and Eggers appears alternately sinister and innocent in his two photos, Edwin Erich Dwinger, in his double-breasted dark suit and necktie, with his impressive head of blondish hair and classic Nordic features, resembles a movie star or perhaps someone like the world-famous rocket scientist, Wernher von Braun. Sadly, his writing lacks luster. As always, Baird offers succinct précis of Dwinger’s written accounts of his experiences in prisoner of war camps. The irony of Dwinger’s life story is that, with a Russian mother, he spoke Russian and, as a Hanoverian Cavalry teenage enlistee, he survived several horrid long prison stints in Czarist Siberia, only to be liberated by the Red Army during what Baird calls “The Russian Civil War” (except on page 214 when he refers to it as “The Russian Revolution”). After escaping the chaos of Red and White Armies slaughtering one another, Dwinger made his way back to Germany and wrote a sequence of memoirs that vilified Bolshevism. Some of these books were bestsellers, but none, as far as I can tell from Baird’s able summaries, rises above its anti-communist rhetoric.

In contrast, expatriate World War One German veteran Erich Maria Remarque’s “All Quiet on the Western Front” was a novel that all six of Baird’s “poets” knew. It rose so far above mere rhetoric, its “message,” that it was made into a superb movie and continues to be read as a multifaceted work of literature today. Hitler’s war poets uniformly denounced Remarque’s book because of its anti-war theme. Wrapped as they were in their mantle of self-pity and disgruntlement about Germany’s loss of the Great War, as young men they observed the decadent whirligig of events—the rampant inflation, corruption and ostentation taking place during the Weimar Republic—and they turned to an Austrian who contended that Germany had been “stabbed in the back” by communists, Jews, and papists. Obviously, each of Baird’s writers, in varying degrees, went along with the Austrian. None of these writers, except for Möller at the nadir of his career, openly questioned their Führer, who, by the way, cared far less about writers than he did about artists, musicians and architects. All the same, his writers fell for the ultra-Romantic notion that they could be Führer-blessed Übermenschen. Mistakenly regarding Nietzsche as an anti-Semite, swept away by Wagner, Brahms and Beethoven as though these composers were chanting “Deutschland über alles,” they dreamed their words would last a thousand years.

Thanks to Jay Baird, we can get some sense of their words and mull over their thoughts less than a century later.

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As a War Baby, James Reiss remembers trying to grow a Victory Garden in northern Manhattan—while Hitler chomped on veggies in Berchtesgaden. http://www.jamesreiss.com/

Panty Flowers Rising: Juliet Cook on Karyna McGlynn’s I Have to Go Back to 1994 and Kill a Girl

I Have to Go Back to 1994 and Kill a Girl, Karyna McGlynn, Sarabande Books, 2009

[Editor’s Note: The lineation of the poetry below differs from the original, a link with the quoted verse in its proper format is forthcoming]

Deep into my reading of this poetry collection, one of the images conjured up in my mind’s eye was Ronette Pulaski from Twin Peaks.  I visualized the scene in which Ronette is slowly walking, ghost-like, across a deserted bridge in the midst of an abandoned landscape, having emerged from who knows what desolate wilderness or harsh reality.  The audience’s clues are that she appears traumatized to the point of numbness; her face is blank, but she is wearing only a torn and stained negligee and bracelets of tattered rope around her wrists.  Following this scene, the next time the audience sees Ronette Pulaski, she is hospitalized, in a coma-like state, unable to reveal the details of whatever sordid story debilitated her in such a way.

Ronette’s back story is revealed later, in bloody bits & pieces and dream sequences with tortured screams and strobe-like flashes of brutalization.  Her back story is one of illicit sex gone grotesquely awry, culminating in the horrific rape and murder of another girl.  Much of Twin Peaks focuses upon the story of that other girl, dead high school beauty queen Laura Palmer and her salacious secret life. Ronette Pulaski is never more than a peripheral character, yet it is through her vision that some of the more grim and grisly details of Laura Palmer’s final moments of existence are filtered.

Part of the reason Ronette Pulaski entered my mind while I was reading Karyna McGlynn’s I Have to Go Back to 1994 and Kill a Girl is related to this poetry collection’s imagery, settings, and hints of an underlying secret danger that seems to grow increasingly ominous as more clues are uncovered.  Another part of the reason is related to repeated links drawn between young female sexuality and some sort of unspoken menace or threat.  Yet another part of the reason is because the speaker in many of the poems seems akin to Ronette Pulaski in her peripheral character status.

…There is so much

I want to prevent–                                        What sort of entity must I inhabit

to keep bad words from coming into           the terrible acumen of

his possession? How to excise with a volt    these toxic suggestions

from his tremendous frame                           of reference?…

This speaker, from a poem called, “I Want to Introduce Myself, Not Quite Human”, seems to be considering what form or approach to take in order to best articulate something that happened in the past, or perhaps even to somehow prevent it from happening, by looking back and trying to make adjustments to the scene. In these and other texts, it is difficult to determine if the speaker is a main character in the scenarios she describes, because there is often a sense that she is outside looking in—or in the future looking back.

It seems like she is watching from the sidelines or from another point in time.  Sometimes it seems as if she is an observer, sometimes an investigator, sometimes a voyeur.  But what or who is the exhibit? Is she gazing upon another girl’s life or is she a voyeur of her own past?  Maybe the sense of being on the periphery or being disconnected from the main scene derives from a kind of repression or even dissociation.  Throughout the book, there is a mood of shifty, unstable identity, leading me to think that perhaps this speaker is revisiting scenes from her own past that she was not equipped to come to terms with at the time.  Perhaps she is creeping around this seamy periphery in an attempt to untangle some knots and then stitch some gaping holes closed.  Perhaps she is seeking such closure (or at least release) so that she may move forward and forge a more solid identity for herself.

I Have to Go Back to 1994 and Kill a Girl is divided into three sections: ‘Planchette’, ‘Visitant’ and ‘Revenant’.  However, one poem takes place before these sections begin, or it might be more accurate to state that this piece takes place after the other sections, chronologically speaking, but is positioned before them in the book, a sort of prologue.  This piece is entitled, “Ok, but you haven’t seen the last of me”.  In this piece, the speaker states that she is thirty years old.  She makes reference to erased memory and a covered bridge.  She says, “I remember her eyes, but not her name” and “Her names touches my lungs like the edge of a plate.  Hypothermia.”  This makes me think of suppression, submersion, and drowning as a kind of defense mechanism.  It also strikes me as an extreme way of saying that her name is at the tip of my tongue.  It is very possible that this collection’s title alludes to the speaker’s journey back to the past in order to kill off a past version of herself by releasing this past self’s story.  If this is the case, then perhaps she must first trawl this former self out of its murky depths, dredge up dark debris and strange artifacts, and attempt to work to the surface something that has been suppressed.

A planchette is the word for the pointer accompanying a Ouija board; that piece which one places her hand upon so that her subconscious mind can guide the spelling out of words from more hidden realms.  This concept can be associated with the idea of dredging up inklings and remnants that only the subconscious mind is privy to. After the speaker in the prologue poem revealed her age as thirty, the speaker in ‘Planchette’ seems to revert back to a more girlish state or perspective, able to make strange associations and draw tenuous connections, but not equipped to offer solutions or provide concrete facts.  Sometimes, she is a seemingly unreliable narrator, as in the poem, “A Red Tricycle in the Belly of the Pool”.

At the beginning of this piece:

a girl rode her red tricycle around the bottom of the pool

the pool had no water; it hadn’t rained

the girl kept smelling her hand

it smelled like honeywheat, or the inside of a girl’s panties

By the end of this same piece:

her throat burned and she couldn’t move her legs

it wasn’t a tricycle

it was something she couldn’t get her foot out from under

she hated to stop or lose her shoe and, I’m sorry

the pool was full of water

As the girl pedals forward, the details of the scene change.  I wonder what that little “I’m sorry” is for.  It may be related to some conflict involved with revealing heretofore unarticulated details or sacrificing a past self.  Despite any conflict, though, I receive the impression that this narration must either remain mired in murk or move towards the truth.  The pool is full of water and it’s time to sink or swim.  Even when the girl was riding her bike on solid ground, her terrain was rough.  Now she’s underwater.

As evidenced in the poem excerpt above and the poem snippet used to title this review (“panty flowers rising”) female panties are a recurring motif in this collection.  They are presented as intimate artifacts and as strangely ominous debris.  A pair of bloody panties might be mere garbage or some kind of more sinister clue.  A description of the smell of a young girl’s panties hints at an innocent female sexuality that slowly mounts into something more primal and violent (or potentially provoking of violence).  The titillation of high school romance and sexual suggestiveness grows more crude and lewd and intertwined with an unspoken menace.  Young lust is juxtaposed with young death.  Birds nest bangs give way to horror movie settings, as in the poem “Amanda Hopper’s House”, which begins:

It was a farmhouse for killing,

the kind I saw in the paper above a row of senior portraits:

girls found in the basement.

Frosted eye-shadow, bangs like birds’ nests.

Girls I saw and said to myself:

good. they deserve it.

“The stupid sluts” sit on my tongue.

I swallow, but the stupid sluts stick there like chicken bones.

This piece goes on to describe the speaker watching out the window from the breakfast table as Amanda’s older sister, Gloria performs her “splayed” role in an awkward sex scene with her boyfriend, followed by another murderous newspaper headline, followed by a directive from Amanda’s mother for the younger girls to stop “gaping”.  This poem’s juxtaposition of sex and violence and its insidious intertwining of female sexual desirability with culpability for such violence provokes some disturbing suggestions and questions.  Perhaps most disturbing is the assessment that sluts deserve it and the implication that this assessment has already been implanted into the consciousness of the young female speaker.  Still, she can’t quite swallow it, which could signify a kind of queasiness, but which could also mean that those undigested bones will become more debris for the trail of clues.

Poems in the same vicinity include the speaker’s roped off crime scene bedroom, references to fishhooks and “rapist bait”, and an unknown naked man suddenly inside her bedroom at night.  Several poems involve female masturbation, in which it would seem that the speaker is trying to take control of her own sexual pleasure, but even these pieces include an uncomfortable tone of furtiveness and voyeurism. There is a sense of a world that cannot be easily grasped by girls, because someone or something is trying to trick them or hide something from them.

Later, damaged seductresses crawl inside, oozing some sort of unspoken but seemingly dysfunctional sex drive.  At times, I think the slinky narrative is moving towards some inevitable revelation about an awful sex crime–gross imposition or molestation or incest or rape.  At other times, I think part of all the sex/death innuendo is due to such content being filtered through a young mind that overdramatizes and generates its own sexual horror out of the new, the unknown, a landscape of taboo in which “death & sex tickle the same damn spot”.  The disturbing innuendo piques and twists and warps and continues to heighten.

Although the mounting menace is not explicitly exposed, it is repeatedly associated with femaleness.  One third of the way through the second section of this collection, in the poem “Would You Like Me to Walk Your Baby?” a sense of unease and maybe even evil seems to be connected to just having big breasts and pointy shoes.  Pointy shoes make me think witch-like and again cause me to wonder will this shifty speaker sink or float.

As the girlish speaker circles towards a more womanish entity, the development of a heightened libido seems to be accompanied by an even more pervasive aroma of potential sexual violence.  The unspoken threat begins to assert itself more insidiously with repeated references to stray and bloody panties, spread legs, and strange insinuations of a danger that cannot be clearly explained.  The poems at the end of the second section are rife with especially disturbing imagery, including a pointy-toothed woman playing with a little girl’s bones, a big scorpion on a floral print bedspread, flashbacks to strangely sexual slumber party dares, and repeated references to rape, as in “The Nursery with Half a Window Up Near the Ceiling”, which reads like some kind of hysterical cautionary tale with lines like:

The ritalin girls who watched

the babies said rape then they

all started to cry, their fat flesh quivering in jeans: Jesus

A man leaned down to look in

the half-window but we could only see his boots pointing in

“He might like big girls or little

girls & even the iron bars won’t

block his penis if he wants in bad enough” they said

Following this disturbing piece, the last four poems in the section are even more disturbing in an amorphously creepy kind of way.  They seem to ooze with dark omens and primordial portents and maybe even some virulent variation on vaginal discharge.  The female forms populating these poems seem as if they have no control (sometimes it’s not even clear if they’re alive or dead) as things enter or exit between their legs.

From “They Shared Her on a Chicken White Sheet”:

…they ratcheted her up

to their level and one boy said                                 you see this?

and the other said

can it dance?  what with her whorl

of black…

From “The Amber Thawed, This Black Thing Scuttled Out”:

I saw wheels on his hooves

she wouldn’t get off

they looped a rope around his neck

it came from between her legs

they pulled them both away

he had a squeaky wheel

she had a missing eye

there was something sticky

it was running down the horse

it wasn’t blood

the men led on and on

there was no stable

the Indian blanket rubbed a hole in her thigh

the meat was grey inside

one of the men said he smelled burning tire

the other said he smelled karo syrup

she fastened her feet firm in the stirrups

she said oh sorry, oh sorry

From “Post Nuptials: the Wedding Party Floated Away on an Iceberg”:

I wanted a picture of the bride

before he hung the ice sheet

with her poppy of hymnal blood

right in the center of the floe

when I opened my eyes’

I was locked in a black meat box

with a Kodiak bear who salted

my balled body with fake snow

someone had stolen my camera

the train lurched before or after

As evidenced by these excerpts, the sordid intersections of female sex and violence have continued, and seem to be growing increasingly intense and distressing, with imagery evoking bestiality and butchery and dark underbellies.  Female bodies are subjected to the ministrations of unidentified males.  Female bodies are presented as malleable meat to be played with, a mysterious burden to be carelessly dragged away, and bloody cargo to be conquered and displayed.  Female bodies have weird things between their legs; they are prodded and poked and observed. The speaker in these poems seems especially peripheral, observing these scenes from a detached perspective.  There is a strange and disturbing fusion of clinical and visceral in the tone of these pieces.  Part of me can’t help but think of a woman splayed out upon some sinister gynecological table with artifacts and debris being dredged forth from between spread legs.

Are females doomed to be exhibitionistic objects, whether under the hands of strange males or under the peculiarly fetishistic scrutiny of themselves?  If they can’t even pleasure themselves without the eyes of inanimate objects watching (“I’m flat on my belly, hand in my jeans– / and how to say every penny has become the eye / of a dead relative watching me?”)—if furtive, unidentified male-creatures repeatedly invade the scene– if odd almost feral female-creatures creep through, too, like little signs that animalistic sexuality may position one as prey, then how can females surrender to their own sexual desires without the guilt of being complicit in their own possible entrapment or consumption or demise?  Part of me can’t help but think of the blame the victim mentality taken to an even more problematic extreme in which the victim blames herself whilst simultaneously fetishizing herself until the filter is clogged with sodden hair; oversaturated with obsession about her own nefarious fate, tinged with a lurid sense of titillation.

One also thinks of camera filters while reading this collection.  One thinks of scripts and how it might be possible to diverge from them.  One thinks of stage sets and still shots and props and costume changes.  The references to a stolen camera and “lurched before and after” in that last poem excerpt above are one of many allusions to different vantage points—from different points in time, from different angles.  There are shifting frames and frames within frames and identity issues.  I’ve already mentioned the seeming intersection of present and past, and there are also several pieces in which even within one time frame, one of the speaker’s own relatives fails to recognize her or seems to deny her very existence. Perhaps the pivotal question here is whether it is possible for someone to step out of the murky shadows and into a main acting role (or vice versa).  Does someone have the power to change her own direction, despite whatever befell her in the past? Can one direct herself to close the chapter on a past scene and find her voice as a more stable entity?

As this book enters into its final section, the first piece of that section, “The Fox Had No Face the Loggermen Said”, seems to maintain the same dark, menacing, feral tone as the poems from the end of section two.  As alluded to in the title, the men are again in control of assessing the scene; although we still have our shifty female consciousness lurking on the periphery and positing her own observations, she still seems secondary.  Not only does the female presence have no primary voice; she doesn’t even have a face.  Again, there is a creepy focus on something strange between the legs; in the lines “a woman moved so fast I couldn’t see / what white thing she tucked between her legs”, I am made to think of a woman furtively moving to hide some dirty secret, like the curse and misplaced shame associated with menstrual blood and having to staunch one’s flow.

In the first part of this poem, “they rolled a barrelful of something muffled / down the back of a mountain”, so the poem starts off with a stifled weight and seems like a kind of continuation of “The Amber Thawed…” piece, in which an immobile woman is being dragged along by men.  At least in “The Fox…”, the woman is moving fast, but is it of her own volition?  Spiders are hatching inside her mattress (another female bed invaded by another dark presence), her mouth is opening but words aren’t coming out, “she was wearing a nightdress the color of pistachios”.  This is the piece that conjured up the image of Ronette Pulaski in my mind, largely due to its heavy momentum and dreamy/nightmarish imagery that struck me as almost Lynch-esque.  Then the female speaker suddenly asserts herself a little more and says:

I wanted to throw her over my shoulder

She was too heavy and my arms were marmalade

she pointed to the boulder under the creek

right where the rope swing dropped off

it looked like the skull bone of Paul Bunyan’s blue ox

a sudden sickness of red algae bloomed to the surface

the current licked itself clean in a second

The nightmarish imagery continues throughout the piece and I’m not sure whether to interpret this poem’s ending as ominous or hopeful.  On the hopeful side, perhaps the current licking itself clean could be analogous to a fever dream breaking.  On the ominous side, perhaps the imagery of a red swirl being swiftly swallowed by a larger force could be indicative of the harsh indifference of larger forces towards one girl’s blood and bones.  Still, she has left her clues and is pointing them out.  She has not been entirely consumed.  Part of me would like to read something positive in the cyclical rhythm of ebb & flow within this poem, despite its continued motif of dark dream imagery.  Part of me would like to view this as a turning point.

The odd almost feral female-creatures creep through the next few poems like damaged starlets from the past or maybe like underdeveloped incarnations of the speaker who don’t want to become dispossessed so keep showing themselves—needily, beseechingly, imploringly—or maybe just like the wounded children that they are—somehow both detestable and endearing at the same time; both victimized and manipulative in their own right.  Here is part of the description of one of these creatures from “Brown Study: A Girl Paces Beneath My Window”:

this is not my will-be lover’s

voice but that of a wry lynx

the enormity of her pockets, little shiv

that makes the epithet slattern so apt

who follows me home hirsute

puts the croup of desire back

The connotations I receive from this passage are many, ranging from wild cat to lurid sideshow attraction to sickness to sexuality to curse to a deep capacity to contain many pieces.  The word “shiv” makes me think of both a pitiable little shiver and a potentially lethal weapon, most often used by prisoners.  McGlynn is an excellent wielder of language, in terms of evoking multiple connotations, eliciting tones, and offering startlingly provocative imagery.  This is only one of various pieces in the final section in which the girlish past self slinks in to haunt, plague, or cling to the speaker like some sort of stunted doppelganger.  Whereas earlier in the collection, I was thinking that the speaker had an important reason for bringing clues to the surface, by the end of the collection, what with this frequent resurfacing of the past at unexpected and inopportune times, I am starting to think that maybe the speaker had a good reason for trying to drown or suppress this entity.  Of course, repression can easily fester into something insidious, so the trick seems to be finding a way to synchronize or hybridize one’s multiple identities into something one can live with (and that the significant others in her life can live with); allowing the past self a certain existence and mode of expression, but a mode that does not perpetually hover on the brink of consuming or being consumed.

I don’t think that I ultimately gained any concrete resolution or epiphany or special knowledge from reading I Have to Go Back to 1994 and Kill a Girl, but I could certainly relate to the content, much of which resonated for me on an almost subconscious level.  This book offers an interesting and disquieting exploration of the young female psyche, under duress of persistent exposure to violence and sex and things one is not supposed to speak about when she is of a certain age.  I am interested in male readers’ responses to and interpretations of this collection, in lieu of their different social conditioning and different set of mixed messages surrounding violence and sex.  As a female, I felt personally familiar with much of this terrain: from the frosted eye shadow and birds nest bangs that I myself was outfitted with as a young teen—to the hushed slumber party conversations about the sexually active girls and furtive glimpses of awkward sex scenes—to the strange titillation of reading a newspaper article about rape, back in the days when the sexual nature of the crime seemed to take precedence over the violence, because sex still seemed so taboo and violence still seemed so unreal in our young lives.  Of course, there comes a point at which those fascinated imaginings meet the real world and twist into something darker, because it’s no longer only make believe.  Much of the content of this book seems to be situated in that sort of confusing transitional realm in which what used to be taboo and unreal is coming to life.

Many of us are familiar with the inundation of media images of sex and violence (especially as it relates to females) and how difficult it can be to extricate the real from the fictive, but we don’t so often experience this story through a poetic text.  I found it very engaging to accompany this text’s shifty speaker on her personal journey of trying to extricate the real from the fictive, within this more intimately idiosyncratic context. There may be a cathartic release to be gained from revealing (or reading) these troubled inner landscapes and their darkly convoluted passageways of female sex, slumber party secrets, and those sinister lurkers who would crash the party and invade the inner sanctum of girls’ bedrooms and their illusions of safe harbor.  There may be a kind of power to be gleaned from trying to pick up the pieces of shattered illusions and form them into a different kind of puzzle or a new pathway.

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Juliet Cook’s poetry has recently been published or is forthcoming in Abjective, Action Yes, Diagram, Diode, Everyday Genius, Oranges & Sardines and many other online and print sources. She is the editor/publisher of Blood Pudding Press. She is author of numerous chapbooks, most recently PINK LEOTARD & SHOCK COLLAR (Spooky Girlfriend Press), Tongue Like a Stinger (Wheelhouse), and FONDANT PIG ANGST (Slash Pine Press).  Her first full-length poetry collection, ‘Horrific Confection’ was published by BlazeVOX in 2008.  For more information, feel free to visit her website at www.JulietCook.weebly.com.

The Hallucinated Confessions of a Teenaged Deadhead

About the book

Told against the backdrop of the American landscape of the late ’80s to the mid-’90s, Growing Up Dead is the story of Peter Conners’s journey from straight-laced suburban kid to touring Deadhead.

Peter discovered the Grateful Dead in 1985, at the age of 15, through friends who exchanged bootleg tapes of live Grateful Dead concerts. A teenager living in the suburbs of Rochester, New York, he became exposed to an entirely new way of life, and friends who were enjoying more freedom and less parental guidance. At the age of 16, he attended his first Grateful Dead concert on June 30, 1987-he was hooked. Between 1987 and 1995, Conners would attend Dead ‘shows’ all over the United States.

Peter Conners was born September 11, 1970 in a small town called America. His published books include the prose poetry collection Of Whiskey and Winter and the Emily Ate the Wind and the memoir Growing Up Dead

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The New Face of Jazz: An Intimate Look at Today’s Living Legends and the Artists of Tomorrow

The New Face of Jazz: An Intimate Look at Today’s Living Legends and the Artists of Tomorrow

By Cicily Janus

You’ve heard about them time and time again.  Their music—the most influential notes ever played.  Bird, `Trane, Miles, Ella and their peers are immortalized in personal CD and iTunes libraries around the world.  You can find their histories, the dirt behind their careers and endless archives in hundreds of books, encyclopedias and limitless websites.

Oh…and one more thing.
They’re dead.

The musicians cataloged in these pages are not.  They eat, breathe, sleep and live for Jazz. As unsung heroes of America’s only original art form, you need to know them.  As a matter of fact, you already should.

Because they’re accessible.

Most of all, they’re the number one music resource in your community. You can find them headlining gigs from coast to coast.  The players highlighted throughout this book are our first line of defense when it comes to the continuation of America’s cultural heritage. They teach all ages from kindergartners to master degree students, spreading their knowledge around to propel their art into the hands of future generations.

I must throw out a word of caution before you dive in.  They’ll grab you by the ears and soul until you’re tethered down to their notes.  And once you’re there, it’s difficult to breathe.  Their art will leave you gasping for air in their intense atmosphere.  Yet, you won’t want to leave.  Keep listening. It only gets better.

The language they speak is progressive, evocative and lyrical. Anything but dull.

With this book as your guide, join us aboard this powertrane heading towards the best musicians, festivals, venues, radio stations and schools throughout the country.  On the way, we’ll pass through clubs in Atlanta, St. Louis, and New York.  Brunch will be served up with tasty morsels of original music in San Francisco, Seattle and Detroit. Join us for festivals in Telluride, New Orleans, Monterey and Jacksonville.

When you’re riding this wave, make sure you take a good look out the windows to your left and right as we whiz through this Mecca of Jazz. I can promise that what you see and hear is completely different than what you’ve heard in the past. Come view the world through the eyes of the New Face of Jazz.

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Undeniable Sublimity: Savannah Schroll Guz on Trailer Girl and Other Stories by Terese Svoboda

Trailer Girl and Other Stories, Terese Svoboda, University of Nebraska Press, 2009

Terese Svoboda’s narratives are demanding: she does not tell her readers how to feel about her characters; her descriptions often make the physical world less recognizable; and her story lines do not climb, arc, and fall in a conventional fashion. They often begin, disorientingly, in the middle and only allude to the true end. Moreover, her sentences must often be read more than once to truly grasp their meaning. But this makes her stories all the more rewarding because they are an exercise in intellectual and sympathetic understanding.

In Svoboda’s “Trailer Girl,” the longest work of a 17-story collection by the same name, there is a desultory quality to her main character’s first-person narrative. This seemingly unfocused monologue, by a nameless woman (who is sometimes derisively referred to as the “Trash Lady” because she rakes up detritus and picks plastic bags out of the barbed wire fence behind her trailer) requires close concentration so that her line of reasoning can be followed, and so we might better understand her unconventional actions, like eating cat food from the can and drinking, like tea, the water used to boil hot dogs. When we understand this, it’s not particularly surprising to learn that Svoboda’s narrator has seen the inside of mental institutions.

What’s of greatest interest, however, is that yes, there is logic to the unnamed woman’s unusual descriptions and obscure references. Yet, the woman’s reasoning is not necessarily the kind readers might instantly understand, and Svoboda’s ostensibly wandering narrative serves this purpose well. The woman lives uncomfortably in our world and operates by a classification system entirely her own. Take for instance, her description of a blind mechanic, who helps the trailer park manager (who is also the narrator’s childhood friend and sometime lover) move furniture, “…the mechanic who today is wearing his commando beret from the theater where he served and returned from without an audience which he is fond of pointing out to any and all…” Here, we meet a character who is most likely—although we can’t be sure—a Vietnam veteran, who returned without a welcoming crowd. Svoboda’s main character makes poignant connections between a theatrical-looking beret and its more dour implications.

A few pages earlier, the character’s oblique but expansive reference covers, in nearly one breath: an apparition of a girl she repeatedly glimpses in a nearby pasture, a girl living in the trailer park, the narrator’s own experience in group homes, and an oft-imagined vision of her two lost daughters. Svoboda writes of the girl in the pasture, “What she needs is someone to protect her, a Kate, so in the home when they lay blame, she is there, the one who asks first for another blanket and gets the No. That is why I had two, why two is all you need.”

And while we are sometimes told how the narrator feels, more often than not, we are shown. She is consistently guarded in her expression of emotion, sometimes seeming entirely devoid of it. She watches the world with a vague curiosity and almost drugged numbness, knowing her place is not to intervene but to quietly accept. Sometimes she even seems confused by what she should feel, and perhaps this comes from having previously felt too much. Svoboda gives us glimpses into her character’s past life, one defined by group homes, a series of foster families, and dismissive men who abandoned her with children even as her breasts continued to leak milk. Hers is the behavior of the abused, and Svoboda captures it perfectly.

Throughout the story, the main character watches (and hears) the abuse of the young girl named Kate. The woman details the overtures to these repeated beatings in vivid descriptions of shouts, body language, and frightened glances. Meanwhile, she and Kate seem to understand something fundamental in one another. While it is never spoken openly, it seems the narrator sees her own childhood in Kate’s. Kate, in turn, glimpses something familiar in the narrator, whose recognized insanity gives her a kind of freedom Kate does not yet enjoy. Kate’s regard for the narrator is revealed by her attempt to construct a wine bottle garden similar to one the narrator has made. However, the trailer park boys crush it, which makes another symbolic reference to the world’s assault on Kate’s creativity and emerging identity.

Where the unnamed narrator in “Trailer Girl” is a distant, resigned victim—an object of contempt to trailer park residents, Svoboda shifts the power fulcrum in the story “Psychic,” which also begins in medias res. Here, the unnamed first-person narrator, a psychic, is revealed to be female only when another character warily addresses her as “ma’am.”  Through her gift, she gains knowledge and wields this power carefully against a man, whose sinister actions are only alluded to but not definitively confirmed.

In “Polio,” told from an older child’s point of view, a decidedly nonchalant babysitter deals with a pack of children, repeatedly telling them that if they obey her commands, they will not get polio. The sitter, referred to simply as “Mrs.” seems older than described by the child, who is, according to the narrative, six years the sitter’s junior. The sitter furtively spikes her Coke with her employer’s booze and fills the bottles back to level with water. By the end, a casual remark made by the children’s mother reveals (perhaps) the reason for the sitter’s drinking, which also happens to be the reason why she shouldn’t be drinking. Svoboda deftly reveals that people’s tyrannies and vices are often fueled by more of the same.

Throughout the book, there are narrative moments that carry the vague scent of other writers. In an early December 2009 interview at Largehearted Boy, Svoboda cites William Faulkner, Italo Calvino and Donald Barthelme as her favorite writers. Certainly, the oblique, oft-dubbed postmodern stream-of-consciousness apparent in Barthelme’s works is apparent in “Trailer Girl,” “Psychic,” and the concluding story “White,” where a grandfather and grandson spray paint a barn and, on a metaphorical level, white-wash a traumatic, if abstractly revealed, event from the boy’s recent past.  Svoboda’s lyrical but almost elliptical descriptions often smack of Calvino. And certainly the subject matter, the focus on motherhood (however fleeting), and the stream-of-consciousness evident in “Trailer Girl” are reminiscent of Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying.

All influences and literary echoes aside, Svoboda’s book bears an undeniable sublimity, even if it is hard-won through careful reading, and sometimes, re-reading. Trailer Girl, as a collection, has power to surprise with simultaneously definitive and cryptic statements, which allow for the reader’s lingering uncertainties and assumption of the worst for the characters.  Here is a portrait of humanity in all its complexity: Svoboda sketches the outline of her characters, includes more haunting details, and through the abstruse and unspoken, allows readers to fill in the darkest patches.

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