Trailer Girl works. Against all odds, it works. I hesitated reading the book, afraid I would only find a laundry list of trailer park cliches. Instead I found myself in a world of poetry and mystery. Imagine T.S. Eliot writing a Nancy Drew novel and then add Tennessee Williams’s empathic powers and you have Trailer Girl. The book possessed me. I stay up all night and then was left haunted by the language and stories of Trailer Girl.
In the title story, Terese Svoboda portrays the “crazy”Â cleaning lady as the only person sane enough to nourish the community. The schizophrenic protagonist hides food for a “wild girl”Â she claims lives in the cow field. This “wild girl”Â becomes emblematic of the abuse found throughout the trailer-park. Cleaning Lady admits, “So some of the court could have seen me gather the bright peels, just as they could have seen the way the man looked so hungry at those children. But I doubt it.”Â No one but Cleaning Lady can see this “wild girl.”Â
Terese Svoboda also gives voice to the voiceless. The Cleaning Lady explains, “What the hand does is nothing compared to the tongue, I say. A wild tongue, I say, is what no one forgives.”Â The “wild tongue”Â is Svoboda’s gift to her readers. This collection speaks for Â forgotten Americans, “lost”Â Americans. Trailer Girl is an important book that should not be overlooked. Svoboda’s “wild tongue”Â lights a fire that illuminates unique truths and rages for justice.
Weapons Grade is a book of pulse. The four sections of the book, while distinct in content and voice, remain connected. Weapons Grade explores war in the world, the sexual, the family, and the self. The collection ambushes the reader. There are poems so stark it seems the collection will not be able to come together, but at the book’s finish the reader is left with a lasting impression of war in all of its manifestations. Everything is related and is of a substance pure enough to make weapons.
Svoboda is able to align war zones with the domestic. In the poem “Secret Executions of Black GIs in Occupied Japan,”Â the image of a noose is treated metaphorically when Svoboda writes, “– the baby’s O / mouth spread for egg.”Â The poem ends with the lines “We wear the mask of the guy who did it– / the present,”Â and finally, the idea of the noose converges with the shape of a human face. The executioner and executed both fit into the space of the O; the O, a sound that conjures both the elation of orgasm and the torment of pain.
There are poems in this collection that use language to transport the reader to complex places. In the poem, “To My Brother, On the Occasion of His Second Breakdown,”Â Svoboda writes, “The fury and majesty of a mind’s death / I can’t watch enough of.”Â There is, in these words, a refusal to offer testimony. Â This same refusal to testify is seen in the poem “For They Know Not What They Do,”Â where Svoboda writes:
Grave raincoat—shouldered people
With their own histories, bad
Histories, drink to their bitterness
And chide us for our efforts
What is there other than I forget?
It is with lines such as these that Terese Svoboda establishes herself as a poet of witness. She offers all that words can give and then surrenders to the terrifying realization that there are occasions that leave even a poet wordless.
Nicelle Davis lives in Southern California with her husband James and their son J.J. Her poems are forthcoming in Caesura, FuseLit, Illya’s Honey, Moulin, The New York Quarterly, Redcations, and Transcurrent. She’d like to acknowledge her poetry family at the University of California, Riverside and Antelope Valley Community College. She runs a free online poetry workshop at: http://nicelledavis.wordpress.com/.