Terese Svoboda - god is not a solemn, dignified deity but a wisecracking woman with attention deficit disorder—the intentionally lower-case, working-class version of a supreme being. A wonderfully phantasmagoric and hilarious trip through the weird heart of the Midwest, a journey that passes across centuries and burrows into the unexplainable mysteries of what it means to be alive

Terese Svoboda, Tin God, Bison Books, 2013. [2006.]

Read an Excerpt (pdf) and here


"This is God," the novel begins, and we are spinning on our way into the heart of a Midwest that spans spirits and centuries and forever redefines the middle of nowhere. Whispers plague a desperate conquistador lost in tall prairie grass. Four hundred years later, a male go-go dancer flings a bag of dope into the same field. God, in the person of a perm-giving, sheetcake-baking Nebraska farm woman, casts a jaundiced yet merciful eye over the unfolding chaos. Fire and a pair of judiciously applied pantyhose bring the two stories together. A contemplation of divinity and drugs on the ground, Tin God is a funny yet poignant, time-shifting story of the plains that transcends its interstate spine and exposes us to a whole new level of Svoboda's fiery prose.

Fabulous fabulist Svoboda (Trailer Girl ) checks in to indulge a talent for wild, sketchy comedy. Laid in Willa Cather country, this quick take has some of Thomas Pynchon's quirky Americana crossed with the Indian tales of Jaime de Angulo. A conquistador rides through the Midwest of 500 years ago; his blue eyes make the Indians think he's God—and God in fact narrates the book. Flash to contemporary slackers Pork and Jim as they lose a bag of drugs in the same field, while God watches wryly, speaking with the crusty accents of a cracker-barrel philosopher. God feels at home in the Midwest, where everyone is waiting for His (or Her) signs. Bessie, the clairvoyant cleaner (she sees God in a tin hat) and the mother of Pork, is the daughter of a migrant worker; with Rolf, her bar-owner ally, she tries excavating the treasure she's glimpsed in her dreams, until alien light storms and the whispers in the grass scare them off—and, it is implied, destroy their budding romance. Back and forth the narrative moves, with Steinian The Making of Americans logic gluing together this eccentric vision of a God-driven Middle America. Svoboda loves her red-state mopes, and that warmth both illuminates and animates her eccentric prose. - Publishers Weekly

"In this book, god is not a solemn, dignified deity but a wisecracking woman with attention deficit disorder—the intentionally lower-case, working-class version of a supreme being. . . . Readers will find Svoboda’s perspective on God, faith, and the impulses that drive human behavior original and quirky. Her characters are self-absorbed buffoons at times but totally believable. This funny romp is very highly recommended for public libraries."—Library Journal

"Svoboda's fiction is marked by the same dark felicity of language found in her poetry. . . . A sense of urgency pervades all of her work, giving the words a pulse, making her language race with insistence."—Timothy Schaffert

"It's hard to spell out dreams—to rein them in, to make the story under our lives rise to the surface. Terese Svoboda brings a light hand, a pinch of humor and a lot of irreverence to this weighty task with her new novel, Tin God. . . . [T]he wisdom of Tin God lies in the idea that, in dreams, some people get within spitting distance of God, while others sleep the sleep of forgetting."—Susan Salter Reynolds

“This new title from the University of Nebraska Press shimmers with crisp writing, an out-of-the-ordinary story and unique characters."—Lincoln Journal Star

"Svoboda's fiercely symbolic and brashly audacious allegory is a fanciful yet cautionary tale."—Booklist

Tin God is a unique and thrilling ride through God’s country and the human imagination.”—Mariya Gusev

"Tin God takes us on a wonderfully phantasmagoric and hilarious trip through the weird heart of the Midwest, a journey that passes across centuries and burrows into the unexplainable mysteries of what it means to be alive on this very strange planet. Terese Svoboda is a true American original: she writes with an angelic beauty and a devilish sense of humor."—Dan Chaon

“Terese Svoboda’s God—serenely positioned somewhere 'out of time, broadcasting whenever, a pretend imposter with no megaphones or ziggurats'—is as irreverent and off-handedly smart as only a deity can be. This is a funny, and moving, and dazzlingly written book.”—Jim Shepard

"Tin God is a brutal and beautiful book about being lost in new worlds and old ones, too. Terese Svoboda has once again proven herself a writer of real power and mystery."—Sam Lipsyte

I went to an event in New York a while back, maybe a year ago, where various writers were giving readings on the theme of movies. The time limit was three minutes, although this was frequently ignored. Everyone told a personal story that was in some way movie-related — except one. When Terese Svoboda got up, toward the end, she said, “I misunderstood the assignment. I wrote a three-minute movie,” and then read, for three dazzling minutes, text that was something like a film script and something like poetry, a fragmentary series of images suggestive of a noir mystery. Something about a running man, I think, and the hands of a clock.
If she was out of step in that parade of personal narratives, she was out of step in the most sublime and interesting way. All of the readers that night were good, but I wished a few more people had misunderstood the assignment. I’d only read one book of hers at that point, the in-my-opinion-mildly-flawed but delightfully strange Pirate Talk or Mermalade. This is someone, I thought, from whom one can reasonably expect originality, and I was delighted to see this suspicion confirmed in Tin God, recently reissued in paperback by the University of Nebraska Press.
In Tin God there is a conquistador, and he’s fallen off his horse in a field of tall grass. He comes to and hears whispering all around him; a tribe of grass-dwelling people have come across him in the midst of their hunt. They’re reasonably sure he’s a god — the way he lies there in full armor like a flipped-over beetle, glinting improbably in the sun; the way his eyes are the color of the sky, unsettling to a people who’ve never seen blue eyes before — but it’s impossible to be sure, so they send him a virgin to watch how he uses her and to gather proof.
Five hundred years later, a sweet but dim-witted gogo dancer named Pork loses a bag of drugs in the same field. His friend Jim threw it out of the car, which as he points out probably saved them from certain legal entanglements given that a cop was after them, but the problem is a tornado touched down in the field in between Pork and Jim throwing the bag out of the car and Pork and Jim coming back to look for it, and now the bag could be anywhere. The field is torn up and in disarray. Pork is in a certain amount of trouble.
God watches over both narratives. God is, in fact, the first-person narrator of the book, whose opening lines are “Hi, this is God — G-O-D, God with all the big letters. I’m out here in the middle of a field.” God is everywhere, especially in the field; God knows everything; God is somewhat competitive and likes to win; God sometimes takes the form of a Nebraska farm woman who enjoys donuts and drives a pickup, because why not. (“I drive by on my route that follows Pork’s, lifting My two fingers off the wheel in traditional car greeting.”)
Tin God is confidently-written, often beautiful, sometimes profane, and strange in the best possible way. It takes some time for the two narratives to come together, but the entire picture does eventually click into place and there’s a feeling, reading this book, of encountering something that hasn’t been done before. It seems to me that Terese Svoboda is a true original. -

“Hi, this is God -- G-O-D, God with all the big letters. And I’m out here in the middle of a field. Oh yeah, I’m everywhere, duh.” These are the first lines of Terese Svoboda’s third novel, Tin God. Yes, this story is told -- first person, present tense -- by God Him and Herself (it varies). Svoboda takes us on a journey with God as our tour guide. The trip is sometimes engaging and sometimes dull, but along the way it consistently attempts to unsettle and expand our perceptions of who and what God might be.
Tin God contains two distinct stories from two different time periods, united by the terrain on which they both occur. One story involves a Spanish conquistador who has fallen from his horse and finds himself alone in an expanse of lush grass so high he cannot find his way out. The other is more current, featuring a guy named Pork who is searching for the brick of cocaine his buddy Jim threw into a sorghum field when their car was chased by a cop. Each story moves along, alternating chapters. Not until the very end of the book, do we learn some of the critical connections between the two.
With these entwined stories, Svoboda boldly and irreverently pokes at commonly held beliefs and images about God. At various times in the story God is the wind, a curious neighbor, or a buxom middle-aged farmwoman wearing a plaid shirt from L.L. Bean. God says, “Remember the girl who last year offered her firstborn to the rising river? I was behind her, in my pickup.” He reads the newspaper, even though He already knows everything. At times God addresses the reader, conversationally, giving insights about Himself. “I hate cops. I shouldn’t say this but some of them think they’re god… whenever I see a cop, I do not like to see him.”  He also comments on how humans relate to Him. “They always name Me something short, like a pet that needs to be called a lot. Spot! Spot!”
Svoboda is a poet as well as a prose writer, and it shows. Her language is lush at times and spare at others. “He keeps his eyes open against the dark and then, slowly, dreams the dark into his eyes. The boy dreams too.” Svoboda is in love with words, clever with prose. “Some feel discovery between their teeth and lean forward off the prow in its search, some stumble into it without so much as tipping their hats or running up a flag, and some would rather not.” She brings the setting of the story to life. The tall green grass in the conquistador’s story is as important and richly developed as a character might be.
Some bits of the story stand out. Svoboda tells a marvelous tale of a boy destined to be sacrificed by his clan, and his sister who chews just enough through the rope that will bind him, that he manages to escape his fate. The details of this sequence are evocative, simply told; they draw us in with their imagination and humanity. And the sister is one of the most intriguing characters in the book. There is also a hilarious chapter where Pork “borrows” a cop’s dog, luring it to his car with chunks of raw steak, in the hope that the dog will be able to locate his lost drugs. The dog takes off after a rabbit.
However, Tin God also has its flaws, and they often make us feel like we are slogging through the inscrutable prairie ourselves. It becomes a challenge to keep turning the pages. The book is inconsistent in the strength of its character development and the accessibility of the story lines. The alternation of the two narratives, and the amount of information Svoboda holds in suspense, means that we must wade through many chapters before we know any character well enough to care about him.
Parts of the story also lack direction. We meander through the tall grass with the armored man for what feels like eternity. There are portions of the prose that go on and on -- clause after beautiful clause -- until we have no idea what’s happening or why we should care.
Tin God is a book on a quest. The premise is intriguing. The language is delicious. But readers may feel that they need a map and compass to keep up with this particular journey, and somewhere along the way they may decide the trip is just not worth the effort. - Deborah Siegel

Terese Svoboda: The TNB  Self-Interview

Dogs Are Not Cats by Terese Svoboda

Terese Svoboda, Dogs Are Not Cats, MadHat Press, 2013.

Dogs Are Not Cats is the new poetry chapbook by Terese Svoboda, proudly published by Madhat Press.
A dazzling master of craft with a body of work that includes five books of poetry, six novels, a memoir, a book of translation and over a hundred published short stories, Terese Svoboda's subject is human suffering. Called "disturbing, edgy and provocative" by Book Magazine, her work is often the surreal poetry of a nightmare yet is written with such wit, verve and passion that she can address the direst subjects. "Terese Svoboda has such range—of subject, of emotion (from whimsical play to chillingly dead serious), that these poems take you on a wild ride, fast and dangerous, but always in control. This is a goddamn terrific book!", writes Thomas Lux about Weapons Grade (2009). She recently wrote two novels, Pirate Talk or Mermelade (Dzanc Books, 2010) and Bohemian Girl (Bison Books, 2011).

The 2007 Graywolf Nonfiction Prize-winning memoir, Black Glasses Like Clark Kent—about her uncle who served as a military policeman in occupied Japan carried a secret until his suicide after the revelations of Abu Ghraib—was called "Astounding!" by the New York Post and was selected "Best of Asia 2008" by the Japan Times. Her work has been chosen for the Writer's Choice column in the New York Times Book Review, an National Endowment for the Humanities grant in translation, and an O. Henry Award.
Cannibal, her first novel, won the Bobst Prize and the Great Lakes Colleges Association first fiction prize. Vogue called Cannibal "a woman's Heart of Darkness" and it was also chosen as one of the ten best books of the year by Spin. Her second novel, A Drink Called Paradise, one of Voice Literary Supplement's ten best reads of the summer, was partially based on her experience living in the Cook Islands. Booklist called it "a stunning novel, frighteningly mysterious and complex." The New York Times called Trailer Girl and Other Stories, "a book of genuine grace and beauty." 
She has taught at Davidson, Bennington, William and Mary, Williams College, San Francisco State, the New School, University of Miami, University of Hawaii, Columbia's School of the Arts graduate program, and Sarah Lawrence.
In addition, Svoboda acted as producer for the Columbia Translation Series and the Voices and Visions series. She has produced poetry videos and documentaries that have aired on PBS, internationally, and have been screened at the Museum of Modern Art and the Getty. She curated "Between Word and Image" for the Museum of Modern Art. Her libretto for WET, a chamber opera for Death and five voices, premiered at Disney's RedCat performance space in L.A. in 2005. Winner of a PEN/Columbia Fellowship, she spent a year in the south Sudan with the Nuer, translating and filming which led her to co-found the NY Anthropological Film Center, later the Margaret Mead Film Festival.
She also writes proposals for innovative applications of new technology and lives in New York City with her husband and two sons.

Terese Svoboda, Bohemian Girl, Bison Books, 2011.
Read an Excerpt (pdf)

Young Harriet’s father sells her as a slave to settle his gambling debt with an eccentric Indian—and her story is just beginning. Part Huck Finn, part True Grit, Harriet’s story of her encounter with the dark and brutal history of the American West is a true original. When she escapes the strange mound-building obsession of her Pawnee captor, Harriet sets off on a trek to find her father, only to meet with ever-stranger characters and situations along the way. She befriends a Jewish prairie peddler, escapes with a chanteuse, is imprisoned in a stockade and rescued by a Civil War balloonist, and becomes an accidental shopkeeper and the surrogate mother to an abandoned child, while abetting the escape of runaway slaves.
A picaresque in the American vein, Terese Svoboda’s new novel is the Bohemian answer to Willa Cather’s iconic My Ántonia. Lifting the shadows off an entire era of American history in one brave girl’s quest to discover who she is, Bohemian Girl gives full play to Svoboda’s prodigious talents for finding the dark and the strange in the sunny American story—and the beauty and the hope in its darkest moments.

"Billed as "part Huck Finn, part True Grit," with Willa Cather mentioned as well, this in fact is sure to have a narrative voice all its own, and one worth waiting for."—Margaret Heilbrun

"Creating a western world as raucous and unpredictable as any imagined by Larry McMurtry, and teeming with characters as tragically heroic as those created by Willa Cather, Svoboda offers a vividly distinctive tale of the American frontier."—Carol Haggas

"Harriet's observations of the world and her small place in it are insightful and often touching. And Svoboda (Trailer Girl and Other Stories) often displays a poet's touch with language and imagery."—Publishers Weekly

"We never doubt Harriet will seize as much satisfaction as this hard life can spare. . . . A marvelous heroine with an iron will and a unique voice."—Kirkus

"Hollywood has handed us an American West of cowboys, cattle, train whistles, and Indian wars, but Terese Svoboda offers a different glimpse of history, from the perspective of a young girl abandoned by her own father to make her way in a world that has mostly cruelty to offer. . . . An eloquent exploration of the Wild West from the perspective of one of its victims who refuses to be victimized."—Andi Diehn

"Terese Svoboda's unusual, yet wonderful narrative reaches its apex of richness and character development as the book draws to an ending as unpredictable as the book itself. . . . Readers who appreciate writing that is innovative, follows no rules, and is equally exasperating and enchanting will fully enjoy Bohemian Girl."—Micki Peluso

Pirate Talk or Mermalade

Terese Svoboda, Pirate Talk or Mermalade, Dzanc Books, Reissue ed., 2010.

Pirate Talk or Mermalade is a novel in voices about two brothers who meet a mermaid, fall into pirating, and end up in the Arctic. Henry Hudson said "mermaids are as thick as shrimp in these parts," and fellow explorer (and pirate) Martin Frobisher dropped off part of his crew in the Arctic.

Pursued by a mermaid, two boys talk their way into pirating and end up in the Arctic where a secret unhinges them both. Disabled piecemeal, harassed by a parrot, marooned on a tree-challenged island, posing as Pilgrims, scrimshawing and singing their way out of prison, the spunky pirates of Pirate Talk or Mermalade defy and indeed eliminate all description: it's a novel in voices.
The many faces of Terese Svoboda's luminous writing include eleven books of poetry, fiction, translation, and over one hundred short stories. Trailer Girl and Other Stories, her third novel, was reissued in paperback last fall.

Told entirely through dialogue, this quirky tale of period pirate wannabes makes a jeu d'esprit of the privateer life even as it baldly de-romanticizes it. Its protagonists, two unnamed brothers (one of whom might not be male), put out to sea from their Nantucket home in 1718 bedazzled by fantasies of gold doubloons and buccaneer booty. Over the next decade, capture by pirates, shipboard slaughter, maiming and dismemberment, slavery, sodomy, shipwreck on a desert island, and getting stranded in the Arctic all follow in due course. Svoboda (The Ask) plays these travails mostly for laughs, presenting them as ongoing pratfalls in the brothers' klutzy comedy of errors. Periodic visits from a mermaid (perhaps their half-sister) and a parrot who steals the scene every time he croaks "Hanged!" add to the fun. - Publishers Weekly

Terese Svoboda, All Aberration, University of Georgia Press, 2009. [1985.]

These are poems of family, of romantic hope and disappointment, of parenthood, and of grief that move from a childhood in Nebraska in which a father strides into a ripe wheat field; to the parks and parking lots of New York City, the interchangeable landscapes of suburban America, and the more sensual environment of secluded water; to little traveled parts of Africa and the Pacific where our customs and passions are refracted into shapes that are sometimes beautiful, sometimes grotesque.
Terese Svoboda writes of a world in which the reassuring simplicity remembered from childhood is difficult to recover. Outside of this vision of the past, all present life seems an aberration—an existence where violence can supplant love, families break apart, a child dies.
All Aberration received a starred review in Publishers Weekly, a lead in Contemporary Poetry 1986 and a Notable Book nomination by the American Library Association. It was written during stays at Yaddo, MacDowell and Ossabaw, and received the benefit of a Creative Artists Public Service grant in 1982. Its poems first appeared in such magazines as Harper’s, The Nation, Paris Review, and Ploughshares.

In her first book, Svoboda exhibits a remarkable range and command of her subject matter. Starting out with poems about the prairie landscapes of her childhood, she ventures into explorations of love, friendship and motherhood in new and less idyllic and less pastoral places, then breaks to exotic cultures in New Zealand, the Pacific islands and Africa. If the most touching of her verses are those dedicated to a son who died in early childhood, the most appealing and original in imagery are Svoboda's erotic poems. At the center of her work is a desire not just to write about love, but to redefine it and expand its possibilities. This poet creates moments that are stronger than everyday experience, moments that are, as she suggests, all aberration, and all the more true and real for being so. - Publishers Weekly    

Under the Blue Moon is an impressionistic volume, at times cryptic or vague, but always vigorous and intense. Barbarese's poems are interesting for the way images circle and grow out of each other``Now/ I'm repeating the thing/ just as I see it/ and each time I do/ changing the ending.'' This reliance on perception, on repetition (as in a sestina), characterizes his method of getting a thing down in order to give it meaning: ``the past is mine first,/ then the past is past.'' Svoboda, a more traditional and direct poet, seems obsessed with the violent present or ``this violence/ that is always inside your head,'' juxtaposing it against an idealized past or an imagined future as a means of healing. Grief, loss, and desire are Svoboda's chief themes. Her steady irony and ability to create rich suggestive imagery (``those passing in cars/ making the pavement sing over and over/ like wind through waving grain'') often save poems on the brink of sentimentality. She is willing to take that risk and when successful, her poems are particulary satisfying. Both of these volumes are engaging and wholly each poet's own. Recommended. - Robert Hudzik

"All Aberration is an excellent first volume. It is refreshingly unfashionable, strikingly written, and suffused with toughness and integrity." —Prairie Schooner

Terese Svoboda, Weapons Grade: Poems, University of Arkansas Press, New ed., 2009.

In her poetry Terese Svoboda walks out to the edge where language is made and destroyed. Her subject is human suffering. Called “disturbing, edgy and provocative” by Book Magazine, her work is often the surreal poetry of a nightmare yet is written with such wit, verve, and passion that she can address the direst subjects.

Weapons Grade, Terese Svoboda's fifth collection of poetry, concerns the power of occupation—political and personal—that often plays with sestina, sonnet, and couplets, as if only form can contain the fury of an occupation. There's also elegy and lullaby and seduction but, in the words of the sixties tune "Wooly Bully," the reader must "Watch it now, watch it."

Weapons Grade is a collection of poems about the power of occupation—political and personal. They often play with sestina, sonnet, and couplets, as if only form can contain the fury of between the occupier and the occupied. There's a pervading sense of dread, of expiation, of portents—even in potato salad. There's also elegy and lullaby and seduction but, in the words of the sixties tune "Wooly Bully," the reader must "Watch it now, watch it." Highly poised, grand and intensely lyrical, the poems veer from the political to the personal, then finish on the elegiac, releasing complex and unexpected meaning with emotional precision. Looking directly into the contemporary apocalyptic, Weapons Grade, Svoboda’s fifth collection of poetry, draws readers back to the radiant present.

Svoboda's fifth collection of poems walks the borders where the personal and the political meet, and where ironic humor and foreboding overlap. Her contemporary America is both finger-licking digital, and a place where there are soldiers in mother's hair. In this book's first section, war is everywhere, from a lab in Tokyo where AIDS-infected blood was used for transfusions to the cavities of your body. Section two takes up notions of mistranslations, misunderstandings and missed opportunities: in one poem, a man walks into a bra; in another a son asks of a missing father, Is he back or forth? The final section takes up more personal subjects, as in a poem titled To My Brother, on the Occasion of His Second Breakdown. Throughout, Svoboda's poems are as haunting as they are funny, as pleasurable as they are powerful. - Publishers Weekly

“Svoboda has such range—of subject, of emotion (from whimsical play to chillingly dead serious)—that these poems take you on a wild ride, fast and dangerous, but always in control. This is a goddamn terrific book!” —Thomas Lux, author of God Particles “Weapons Grade is both whistleblower and elegy, a tour de force in the expansive in-your-face tradition of Susan Griffin and Garry Trudeau. Svoboda is an indefatigably American writer of conscience and acuity—a documentarian and saboteur, satirist and sharp-tongued citizen, her poems dangerous and heartbreaking.” —Maureen Seaton, author of Venus Examines Her Breast “‘Let the continent flex its bicep, / a man built on steroids.’ This is Terese Svoboda’s grave view of America today, in her new collection Weapons Grade (the name of a grisly atrocity game), but she makes poems that laugh anyway! . . . Sweet—or sharp—tempered comedy empowers Svoboda to address the direst subjects in a prophetic and scary book full of hilarious noises.” —Caroline Knox

The versatile Svoboda (who last year published Black Glasses Like Clark Kent--an amazing exploration of her uncle’s suicide and his military past) takes a righteous step into the land mines of political poetry. She tackles such weighty subjects as war crimes, environmental concerns, third-world sweatshops and America’s loss of freedoms in this tough-minded collection of poems that sets the stage for the final section of the book--poems about the irreconcilable conflicts between family members who dwell within an emotionally desensitized and dysfunctional society. - Rigoberto González

Terese Svoboda, Trailer Girl and Other Stories, Bison Books, Reprint ed., 2009.                              

In this stunningly original collection of seventeen short stories, Terese Svoboda navigates a terrain of alienation and loss with searing, poetic prose. 
“I talk like a lady who knows what she wants,” begins the vagrant narrator of the title story. She insists there’s a wild child hiding among the cows in the gully near her home. Others in the trailer park think it’s just herself she’s chasing, but no one helps her sort out the truth—until there’s a murder. Stark and disturbing, “Trailer Girl” is a story of cycles of child abuse and the dream to escape them. 
In “Psychic” a clairvoyant knows she’s been hired by a murderer, in “Leadership” a tiny spaceship lands between a boy and his parents, in “Lost the Baby” a partying couple forget where they dropped off their baby, and in “White” a grandfather explains to his grandson how a family is like a collection of chicken parts. 
Frequently violent, always passionate, these often short short stories are not the condensed versions of longer works but are full-strength, as strong and precise as poetry.
In the title novella of this collection of 14 otherwise short-short stories, Svoboda (Cannibal) tells the tale of a nameless woman, a survivor of foster homes and abuse. After a number of stays in mental institutions, she now lives in a filthy trailer park peopled by dropouts who are every bit as damaged as she is. The woman believes there is a wild child living in a gully near the trailer park but is this really true? Svoboda tends toward obfuscation and the reader is often left mystified, but the overall effect is compelling. Characters in the short stories really more like prose poems are shadowy personages difficult to pin down. The first story, "Sundress," is a prologue to the novella, in which a nameless girl and a creepy boy named Ernie move into a house by pretending to be relatives of the vacationing owners. "Polio" features a sitter who invents a game called chute: she drops a baby down a laundry chute and lets her other charges follow. Most interesting of the short pieces is "Psychic," in which a clairvoyant woman realizes she has been hired by a murderer, and uses her knowledge to wring a few extra dollars out of him. The language throughout is at once potent and oblique Svoboda has published three books of poetry and thus the allure lies less in the situations than in their strange telling. (Mar. 1) Forecast: Svoboda, sounding here like a cross between William S. Burroughs and Dorothy Allison, has been lauded in edgier venues like Spin and the Village Voice. While this may not be a mainstream hit, she could find an audience of more adventurous readers. - Publishers Weekly

It is hard to digest this much Svoboda (Cannibal, A Drink Called Paradise) in one sitting. Her poetic language is spare, disjointed, confusing, brilliant, and piercing, but her angst-filled tales are neither pleasant nor pretty. Hers is a dark world of vagrancy, abuse, drug addiction, and alcoholism, containing a litany of life's losers and wounded. For all the sometimes lovely images and unique turns of phrase, this is an acquired taste. The most accessible story of the collection's 15 stories is the bittersweet "Sundress," in which two elderly lost souls, unloved former foster children, spend their days searching for vacant homes in which they can pretend to play house for brief, blissful periods. "Trailer Girl," the linchpin novella, is overflowing with cruelty and hurt. The fates of brutalized, sexually abused Kate, her battered baby brother, and the little lost wild girl, elusive as a feral animal, haunt the story's fragile narrator, the Trash Lady, who feels their pain as if it were her own. This powerful cutting-edge literary fiction is recommended for specialized collections. - D Jo Manning

“You have to listen, carefully, to Terese Svoboda’s stories. You have to read them slowly, more than once, sounding the words this way and that, letting yourself interpret, not with logic alone, but using the tools of poetry–association, juxtaposition, metaphor. Even what’s left out can be significant. For these are not so much stories in the traditional sense as tangled situations, networks of convoluted yet precisely controlled language. And you don’t read through them, but into them, going deeper each time.”—Women’s Review of Books

Trailer Girl has the surreal poetry of a nightmare. . . . Svoboda has written a book of genuine grace and beauty.”—New York Times Book Review

“Unnerve thyself: the violent and enthralling short stories in Terese Svoboda’s Trailer Girl detonate on contact.”—Elissa Schappell

“The kind of satisfaction that one gets from [Svoboda’s] stories is quick and blinding, governed more by instinct than reason.”—Francie Lin

"Written in the style of dreamy prose poems about the alienated and edgy lives of the walking wounded, these stories shimmer and dazzle with an intensity that sometimes creates the feeling of the world as a floating, melting cloud of illusion."—Cheryl Reeves

Interview with Terese Svoboda

Terese Svoboda, Black Glasses Like Clark Kent: A GI's Secret from Postwar Japan, Graywolf Press, 2008.

After her Uncle's suicide, Terese Svoboda investigates his stunning claim that MPs may have executed their own men during the occupation of Japan after World war II.

"Astounding!" reports the New York Post about Black Glasses Like Clark Kent, winner of the Graywolf Nonfiction Prize and published by Terese Svoboda in 2008. A memoir about her uncle as an MP who reported executions of GIs in the stockade he was guarding in postwar Japan and then committed suicide, Black Glasses Like Clark Kent is "a family romance in the guise of a biography and memoir, also a mystery in the spirit of writers as various as Dashiell Hammett and Sigmund Freud, Patricia Highsmith and D. W. Winnicott," writes Robert Polito.

In spare, controlled prose, novelist and poet Svoboda (Tin God) turns to nonfiction to deliver a powerful memoir-turned-political exposé. Svoboda sets out to document the military experiences of her uncle Don, but the Abu Ghraib prison scandal unleashes her uncle's repressed memories, sending him into a deep depression. Before his eventual suicide, Don confesses long-unspoken secrets on cassettes for the author. The tapes reveal more about his service in post-WWII Japan, as well as detailed accounts of human rights abuses. As the book progresses, Svoboda grows increasingly aware of the consequences of Don's words. His stories are interspersed through-and haunt-every chapter "I listen to his tapes several more times. His voice sounds much lower than I remember, it's so gravelly I could walk on it." The raw quality of Svoboda's relationship to her uncle is as captivating as Svoboda's investigations of the postwar period are alarming. Because she tries to include so much, the author occasionally runs into structural problems-though some of her digressions actually help the reader: by including interviews with Japanese citizens, tales of frustration with the National Archives, and conversations with her father, Svoboda illuminates her text. - Publishers Weekly

The third Graywolf Press Nonfiction Prize book is Terese Svoboda’s Black Glasses Like Clark Kent and, like Kate Braverman’s Frantic Transmissions to and from Los Angeles and Ander Monson’s Neck Deep, the book’s a formal phenomenon, structurally interesting and likely to get pegged, somewhat incorrectly, as “experimental.” What the book for sure is is: great and interesting and a good read and, in the best possible way, containing that vital element of some of the best nonfiction books, Black Glasses Like Clark Kent has a conscience. 
The structure’s basic enough: Svoboda’s uncle was an MP in occupied Japan, after the end of World War II. After a lifetime spent stolid and hardworking—well, it’s there in the title, Clark Kent, right?—he falls into a depression, unable to break out of it. He tells his niece that he has a story to tell her, one worth retelling, about his experiences after the war. He sends her tapes of his story, and she transcribes them. He hints at a clincher moment, something astounding enough to make the story more worthwhile and pressing than any of the author’s other obligations (and she’s a fiction and poetry writer, and a mom, and you’ve got to sort of figure the list of things she’s got to keep her busy is likely long as a train). Then he kills himself. 
The secret Terese Svoboda’s uncle may or may not have carried for nearly 60 years is that the United States killed some of its own men after the war, in a dingy prison in Japan, on a gallows draped in black. No joke. It’s weird and awful enough to consider the Army killing its own lawbreaking members (no matter how sensical it is that, as a corporation, the Army’s got “kill people” listed in its job description), but as Svoboda’s uncle begins his hinting game with his niece, the story of Abu Ghraib breaks. Suddenly an old Svoboda family story—true or false or mythic or whatever—about strange treatment at prisons half a world away takes on, shall we say, a deeper resonance. 
There’s no way to argue that a storyteller (musician, author, painter, someone who kisses you) doesn’t know what’s coming next, which is why this seems to be such a hard point to make (or it’s proving difficult for me to write, anyway): lots of why Black Glasses Like Clark Kent works so well is because there feels to be an element of surprise on the part of the author. The best stories, of course, carry a surprise for the witness/listener/reader—and the very best contain surprises that somehow feel inevitable as well. What Svoboda’s done in weirdly deceptive ways (coming all the way clean: I didn’t like this book right when I finished it, but over the next few days, like to a painting I couldn’t quite tease apart, I kept returning to the book, surprised and still curious) is woven her own surprise into the narrative, her own reticence and confusion and wonder and hope and hopelessness so that it’s not simply a book about what may or may not have happened to and/or because of her uncle sixty years ago in Japan, but also about how that information is shaped and shaping, how it morphs and shifts and takes on or sloughs off weight depending on circumstance, history, etc. 
She cops to all this, too, Svoboda does: “Who tells any war story is what is important, that is, who has the authority to tell it, and then when and why.” Questions of authority are, of course, the heart of war stories: it’s infinitely more urgent to hear a soldier’s firsthand account of something experienced than to read some DoD memo of it. Which is, curiously, the buzzing call at the heart of Svoboda’s thin and beautiful book: that we’re no longer in the presence of a generation anyone would mistake for the “Greatest”; that the “official” story, cluttered and sutured with words thick enough to dam rivers of outrage, may not be the story we need most to hear; and that, despite the inherent confusion of any story, especially any war story (would you be surprised to know that Svoboda, in her research, finds conflicting accounts of the hangings—at the hands of MPs—that her uncle hinted at but never spoke of?), the stories must be told. And maybe most important (since it’ll depend on the reader whether or not one feels this book “concludes” satisfactorily): the telling of a story, sometimes, must be enough. The luxury of a true and complete account of anything is almost laughable, and history seems to have a good grip on that fine, final thread. What we have to do, living within history, is tell whatever we can, whatever we know, and Svoboda’s written a great book both about an actual incident and the telling. 
(Just for the record, too: can we all just nominate Graywolf as the best small press in the world? And can all of us who are both from and forever devoted to Minnesota just kiss the damned ground every time we’re in the state for being the magic sort of place that lets things like Graywolf not only happen but flourish? Also: T. Svoboda’s Tin God is miraculous: buy that one too). - Weston Cutter

Terese Svoboda, Treason: Poems, Zoo Press, 2003.

Treason, Terese Svoboda's fourth book of poetry, is about betrayal: child to parent, wife to husband, a nation to its people. Short, sometimes gnomic or comic, many of the poems circle the subject of the mother as betrayer, creator and destroyer, seductive and maternal, the tie that terrorizes while it comforts.

Terese Svoboda, like Denis Johnson, publishes both fiction and poetry, and, also like Denis Johnson, is one of the best in both genres. In Treason, she is at the height of her powers where her style is becoming more identifiable (one thinks of Keats, Dickinson, James, Yeats, Plath, Ashbury), meaning this collection is political, highly poised, grand and intensely lyrical - a collection like none other. Sit back and let Treason work its terrible magic as its lines and images lead to each epiphany, each horror, and moment after moment of beauty.

Terese Svoboda, A Drink Called Paradise. Counterpoint, 1999.

Poet (Mere Mortals) and novelist (Cannibal) Svoboda's seductive, dreamlike postmodern novel is an ecological parable and a vacationer's nightmare. Clare, an advertising copywriter coping with divorce and guilt over her son's accidental death, seeks relief from Los Angeles through a week's escape on a remote tropical Pacific island, but her sojourn stretches into a six-week ordeal. Though she "goes native," eating taro and joining the island women in their dancing and chores, she remains an outsider, a tourist, a foreigner. The island oozes sexuality (native women give each other ribald nicknames) and suppressed violence. Clare, half-asleep in a guest hut, fends off an indigenous would-be rapist who insists his nighttime assault is simply a ritual custom. Native women have scars around their necks, hidden by necklaces of shells. Even Harry, Clare's fellow tourist and casual lover, spins a dark yarn about his hippie days in Afghanistan, when a relief worker who accidentally ran over a boy was hanged by the locals. Finally, when four moon-suited men escort Clare away in an emergency boat and perform medical tests on her for radiation exposure, she discovers that the area is off-limits due to a hushed-up atomic bomb test or a nuclear accident. Svoboda's lush, fractured lyricism captures the indolent rhythms, isolation and deceptive calm of this far-from-paradisaical island, which exudes an aura of menace. Her ever-changing prose is often strikingly beautiful ("Cumuli pile over me, shadowing the ocean with boat shapes, boats that are always arriving.... Fish muscle through the water in sheaves of color"). Postmodernism's heady potential to reinvent language, unclog the doors of perception, and reconceptualize thoughts, feelings, selves and reality is on vibrant display in this demanding, worthy novel. - Publishers Weekly

When a copywriter is stranded on a small island in the Pacific after helping a soft drink commercial shoot, she uncovers a terrible secret that eventually drives her to the brink of insanity. Svoboda's stunning novel, frighteningly mysterious and complex, deals with many themes: a child's accidental death and the guilt a surviving parent must cope with, the inhumanity with which faraway governments often treat indigenous peoples, and the relationship between sex and reproduction in both personal and social contexts. Fast-paced, intense, deeply moving, it encourages questioning basic assumptions about the personal search for happiness and the tendency to idealize the lives of those whose culture is perceived to be more "primitive" than one's own. Svoboda uses stark imagery and the protagonist's interior dialogue to craft a most compelling and fluent narrative. - Bonnie Johnston

Terese Svoboda, Mere Mortals: Poems, University of Georgia Press 1995.

All of the medical, technological, and psychological advances of the twentieth century challenge “mere mortals” in Terese Svoboda’s third book of poetry. In “Faust,” a mini-epic in five acts, the eponymous character of literary legend appears in the form of a woman, who redefines what being mortal means in light of the politics of the Third World, and gender. In contrast “Ptolemy’s Rules for High School Reunions” explores what happens when you do without a pact with the devil. The gods—Greek and otherwise—also make appearances as a TV announcer in “Philomela,” in the basement with the plumber in “The Smell of Burning Pennies,” and in the dyslexic confusion between “Dog/God.” But it is not only the divine that charges the poems in Mere Mortals—sex also suffuses and reinvents key relationships. Readers of such wittily probing poems as “The Root of Father is Fat” and “Brassiere: Prison or Showcase?” will know why Philip Levine has described Svoboda as “one light-year from being the polite, loverly, workshop poet.

A rambling, vivid imagination -- Publisher’s Weekly
For readers who prefer the chill of a dry martini – Library Journal
She triumphs, wriggling out of her own verbal knots with the energy and wit of a sideshow star. – Boston Review

Terese Svoboda, Cannibal, NYU Press, 1994.

Cannibal is Africa from the inside—inside the head of a woman who fears that the man she loves is CIA, that the film the're supposed to make is his cover, that she might be pregnant. A haunting story of survival, Cannibal lays bare a woman's greatest hungers. Known as Good-for-Nothing by the Africans —unfit for the climate, the work, or frienship, she struggles for recognition, and for her life. What she finds, wandering the savannah for months, are the "blue people", those with AIDS who have been left to die in an abandoned British outpost. But this is only counterpoint to her own predicament. "Trust hasn't enough syllables," she says, regarding her lover walking ahead of her. "He doesn't look at it. I can't not look, but he won't look." In Cannibal, nobody wants to look—the differences are too frightening, the truth too stark, the love too little. A step beyond Heart of Darkness, Cannibal is the virtual reality of exotic paranoia where, when the images break apart, Death grins out.

Winner of the publisher's 1994 Elmer Holmes Bobst Award for emerging writers, this fragmentary, darkly lyrical first novel conjures an Africa charged with menace. Svoboda, a poet and filmmaker who lived for a year in the Sudan, thrusts her nameless young American heroine into a nameless country, where she is filming a documentary with her manipulative, sexually demanding boyfriend, whom she suspects of being a CIA agent. Her other worries include her fear that she is pregnant and her struggle to earn the natives' respect. Feeling like an outsider, "only a woman and just white," she goes by the epithet "Good for Nothing," but by the story's end the natives rechristen her "Daughter of the Nile." Horrific images of animal slaughter and dangers in the bush mingle with a grim encounter with "blue people," victims of AIDS who roam the savannah or wait to die in a deserted British outpost. While Svoboda's stark imagery paints a visceral, powerful portrait of a milieu beset by mistrust and pain, the narrator's voice sometimes goes flat, and some readers may find her minutely self-analytical focus enervating. - Publishers Weekly

Terese Svoboda, Laughing Africa, University Of Iowa Press, 1990.

This urgent, spirited collection ranges in tone and subject matter from the vehemently political to the deeply personal. Svoboda ( All Aberration ) draws on her experiences in Africa and the South Pacific to examine modernity's subversion of humanity's archetypal, fundamental impulses. Insistent rhythms and recurring images of a "Paradise" lost to war, exploitation and nuclear destruction make apparent the poet's belief in a global fall from grace to a world of "knowledge without antidote" where "we have science clutched to our breast / like a lily." Svoboda's vision is not entirely bleak, however, and she pursues a recovered, Whitmanesque innocence as symbolized by the fertile, primitive landscape "where we began": Africa. "I hear Africa singing, . . . / and what I see is Africa / the beautiful, a wildness that's America's / no longer." In deftly crafted poems alternately hard-edged, sensual and tender, Svoboda delicately balances a harsh, yet convincing indictment of Western culture with an equally ardent belief in the possibility of human compassion and responsibility. - Publishers Weekly

Terese Svoboda, Cleaned the Crocodile's Teeth: Nuer Song, Greenfield Review Press, 1985.

Poetry. The Nuer are a cattle herding people who live along the Nile. Although only a half million in population, they were made world famous by anthropologist E. Evans Pritchard's classic "The Nuer." Song is the art form most suited to their harsh climate and semi-nomadic existence. CLEANDE THE CROCODILE'S TEETH was translated by Terese Svoboda, who collected and transcribed them in the Sudan with the aid of a PEN/Columbia Fellowship. The National Endowment for the Humanities provided support for the completion of the project. However, CLEANED THE CROCODILE'S TEETH is more than just the translation of these songs. Its linking narrative, which chronicles Svoboda's experiences and places the songs in their proper contexts, takes us along on the translator's sometimes difficult journey and gives us an even deeper glimpse into the often hard, but never hopeless lives of the Nuer. Svoboda is also the author of ALL ABERRATION, a book of poetry published by the University of Georgia Press.

The Nuer, a cattle herding people who live along the Nile, were made famous by anthropologist E. Evans Pritchard's classic text on social anthropology. Svoboda's translations are aided by a linking narrative which chronicles her experiences and gives us a deeper glimpse into the often hard lives of the Nuer. - "Writer's Choice" in New York Times Book Review

"She (the author) approaches the Nuer not as an alien, exotic society but as people whose artistic expression may hold meaning and pleasure for any reader."--T.O. Beidelman in ANTHROPOS
"A vivid impression of modern Nuer society." --Douglas H. Johnson

"Translated is too modest a word by far. Each of the carefully rendered songs is hard and as beautiful as a pebble washed through centuries." – Writer's Digest

"We have a lot to learn from these poems about the social context of our own poetry, and we are indebted to Svoboda for bringing them to us." --Roxanne Barrett in COLORADO REVIEW
"Anyone interested in poetry will find insight and image here to delight; creativity enough to last long fter the book is finished." --James Ruppert

"An enticing introduction to one pastoral culture's songs" – World Literature Today

The Too Small House: Lola Ridge and I

Terese Svoboda, Anything That Burns You: Lola Ridge, Radical Poet, Schaffner Press 2016.

IN 2012, I dropped everything else — my novels, my stories, my poetry, my teaching — and waded into the complexities of biography, a genre I knew nothing about, swam in murky unknown modernist waters, dove into the archives of a dozen libraries, and worst of all, discovered footnotes. All for Lola Ridge.
It wasn’t just her poetry of witness:

I love those spirits
That men stand off and point at,
Or shudder and hood up their souls —
Those ruined ones,
Where Liberty has lodged an hour
And passed like flame,
Bursting asunder the too small house.
As stirring and, yes, beautiful as her poems are about executions, labor rallies, lynchings, they are only one part of her attraction. She loved freedom, politically and aesthetically. She was an anarchist, in life and work. No subject or form was taboo. “All life is the domain of poetry; not only the ancient rituals of love and birth and death; but all vast happenings, from wars, strikes, the endless crucifixions of labor, to the beginning of the smallest flower,” she wrote an English critic. Modernist women poets of the 1910s and 1920s were renowned for writing about anything (especially sex and politics) as part of their big breakthrough in poetry. Of course, like Samuel Johnson’s dancing dog, that they could write poetry at all was most amazing.
Women of my generation came to writing encumbered by the New Critics telling us that writing about sex was fine — in fact, the more the better, bring on the titillation — but politics were a no-no. Even Adrienne Rich felt this at the beginning of her career, believing that “a too-compassionate art is half an art.” These days, with Ferguson and Occupy, poets are expected to weigh in on politics. Or at least the appropriate poets, those with the “right” race or political credentials. Lola had no such qualms. “Let anything that burns you come out whether it be propaganda or not … I write about something that I feel intensely. How can you help writing about something you feel intensely?” she told one critic. A white woman croons in black dialect in her “Lullaby” while throwing a black baby into a fire during a riot.
To discover such a maverick and bring her to light was admittedly another attraction. Buried treasure! It wasn’t as if absolutely no one knew about her — our twice Poet Laureate Robert Pinsky brought her to my attention with one of his brilliant Slate essays. But the work of radical poets was pretty much erased from the canon around the time of World War II in the hysteria around dissent of any kind. Her executor didn’t help. She had promised a biography for the last forty years and held onto her papers. Now the copyright has expired. Going through her work, I was happy to discover that to revive her didn’t involve slapping Ophelia or digging into discards. Lola had the poetic goods.
But did she have a life interesting enough for a biography? Born in Ireland in 1873, she lived 23 years in New Zealand, four in Australia before immigrating to the US. She also traveled to Mexico, France, Corsica, England, Bermuda, Damascus, Italy, Baghdad, and Montreal, peregrinations partially explained by the modernist tendency to homelessness. But hers were punctuated by years of invalidism. She would get out of her sickbed and board a boat with very little money and wander somewhere for months, writing begging letters to her friends. She was saved from starving by her tendency toward anorexia. In her feminism, she made radical life decisions, leaving her seven-year-old son in an orphanage in San Francisco. How did any of this reveal itself in her poetry?
I beat Janie
and beat her …
but still she smiled …
so I scratched her between the eyes with a pin.
Now she doesn’t love me anymore …
she scowls … and scowls …
though I’ve begged her to forgive me
and poured sugar in the hole at the back of her head.
Barbies alive! This wasn’t Mina Loy’s wild juxtapositions about sex or Baronness Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven’s penetrating madness, or Edna St. Vincent Millay’s dexterous come-ons. Her voice was modern in a way that bridged the Freudian musings of her generation and mine.
I was hooked. Maybe this is always the way it is with a love object, but within months I discovered that, like some kind of biographical plumber’s snake, Lola had reached deep into my life. I found parallels everywhere. Lola spent her first four years in the company of kin who claimed to be descended from a race of Irish princes. I was an Irish princess, according to my mother, whose great-great grandmother ran off to America with a commoner. Lola’s New Zealand childhood was spent in Hokitika, once home to a gold rush as big as San Francisco’s. She arrived a decade too late. My hometown, Ogallala, Nebraska, once the rip-roaring end of the Texas Trail, had as many saloons as Hokitika, sporting the same Western storefronts. Even Nebraska/New Zealand politics ran along the same lines. When New Zealand labor journalist Len DeCaux saw a turn-of-the-century photo of Westport, a town which lies very close to Hokitika, he exclaimed: “It was so startlingly similar to Western American towns around the same period, where the IWW had its start, that I realized for the first time that the Wobblies might have had roots in like pioneering conditions in both countries.”
Then there was our shared New Worlds. Lola arrived in the US under the name of Sybill Robson. When I worked illegally in Canada, I too took an alias. Both of us wandered. I felt that I understood her struggles as a traveler in 1930s Baghdad since I had lived in similarly wild Khartoum in the 1970s, and Arab children threw rocks at me too. Traveling in the South Sudan for nearly a year, I lived with the Nuer, pastoral Nilotes. They are born anarchists: “There is no master and no servant in their society, but only equals who regard themselves as God’s noblest creation,” wrote anthropologist E. Evans Pritchard. A friend of Emma Goldman, Ridge saw anarchy as “ … the opportunity of complete self-expression for all.” But she also understood its limits. “Anarchy is the philosophy I feel closest to and shall always be, but I no longer believe in the possibility of its application to modern society.” She was a liminal woman who belonged nowhere, owing allegiance only to herself: freedom from that too small house.
The subject of Lola’s first book, The Ghetto and Other Poems, were the Jewish immigrants on the Lower East Side. As an “immigrant” from Nebraska, I’ve lived a block from the setting of the long title poem, “The Ghetto,” for the last twenty-some years. “Hester street, / Like a forlorn woman over-born / By many babies at her teats, / Turns on her trampled bed to meet the day.” Artists nearly always live like immigrants. They have to work part-time to support their art, and with half-wages, they buy vegetables in the open-air markets, they bicycle their child home from school, they seldom speak the same language as their neighbors. The difference is they don’t want — or can’t afford — to assimilate.
The Ghetto and Other Poems? said the clerk at the Tenement Museum. We don’t have it, he says, looking up from his computer. Sounds interesting.
I compliment him on his intuition and good taste. I’ve reached the state of proselytizing — it’s the state past finding her everywhere. The night before, Jeff Allen, my host at my reading for the New School, mentions that Paul Morphy appears in his new book Song of the Shank. Morphy, I interrupt — he was the subject of Lola Ridge’s husband’s biography. Jeff forgives me. He’s been working on his book for 12 years, he knows obsession.
Why isn’t everyone talking about Ridge? Why weren’t they always? When I give the usual reasons for her neglect, politics pre-World War II, her last too-ambitious books, the muscle behind the aesthetics-divorced-from-feeling Pound and Eliot espoused, the executor holed up with her papers, sheer gender-envy, I am left with luck. Edna St. Vincent Millay was dragged forth out of the past by Nancy Milford and others, despite John Crowe Ransom calling her a “little girl.” Can St. Lola rise from her slot between Evelyn Scott, called “whore,” and Millay’s “girl”? Haven’t we moved past the three categories for women?
Although we are separated by a hundred years, my experience in the social world of poets is the same as Lola’s: it’s a hardscrabble life, full of intrigue, and few rewards. Lola was lucky in that poetry written by women was particularly sought after in her era. Although second-wave feminism brought about interest in women’s poetry in my time, it seems to have waned, at least according to the VIDA count that tracks women’s publications. Lola rode her wave, and at its end abandoned many projects, including a book about women’s creativity that Viking said wouldn’t sell. The title of her proposed last book was “The Passage of Theresa.” I have no idea what she had in mind for it — not a word of it remains. With every move, she lost her glasses, her slippers, her keys, and her manuscripts. I like to assume with this one that she was channeling me backward; she saw me standing deep in Smith library where the accessible half of her papers are stored, trying to find a passage out. Passage or passion?
When Lola’s husband filled in his passport application in 1924, he gave the name of their closest friend as a reference — “the man who will always know our address,” the Australian printmaker Martin Lewis. Examining his work at the New York Public Library, I realized I’d seen it somewhere before. Lewis loved dramatic blacks surrounding pools of electric light — like Edward Hopper. That was the link? I wasn’t sure; I read on. He’d taught Edward Hopper etching. Unlike Hopper and his theme of isolation, however, Lewis was a proto-social realist whose work showed rallies in NYC, factory workers trudging home, and critiqued skyscrapers, using much the same subject matter as Ridge. Ridge’s husband owned two of Lewis’s works. Then I remembered a folder of mostly excruciatingly bad etchings from the ’30s my mother-in-law collected for her work for UNICEF. I rummaged through storage and found the file and there it was — Tree by Martin Lewis, a spooky night scene of three homeless boys caught around a fire, with a looming adult, a clothesline, lit skyscrapers, and a searchlight in the distance. Discovering such an artifact in my very basement proved to me that Ridge exists in more than my psyche.
Okay, okay — I’ve gone overboard. Of course there are sharp differences. Both of us suffered the death of our firstborn, a subject of a number of my poems, but none of Lola’s. I’ve never worked as an editor (well, maybe once or twice guest-editing), while she edited two important modernist magazines, Others and Broom. She took ten years off her age; I’m just thinking about it. I don’t take drugs except for a nice dose of melatonin now and then, and I’m not a hypochondriac. But I’m telling you too much. The biographer’s life must not compete, and most importantly, must not obstruct in the telling. But remember — most biographies have a doppelgänger dancing naked behind the curtain. - Terese Svoboda