Moods wash through this poet and fiction writer's (Trailer Girl) fourth book of lyrics with an uncompromising, catch-me-if-you-can ineffability. "The Nickel Wife" is as inchoate as overheard conversation, with no single detail giving away entirely what the poem might be about ("You don't hear their words/ turn dull, his third glass/ empty"), and word play does a lot of work throughout (one poem derives the word "Mehta-physics" out of a child's desire to embrace an Indian nanny). Yet Svoboda has a knack for gem-like couplets, fluid free verse and curious off-rhymes linking several lines back to their sonic progenitors. Some specific themes get lost in the shuffle: a section concerned with African war and politics generally offers little more than a tragic, phantasmagoric take on the events that inspired them, but the spare "Sex and Class and Race," concerned with a parent's feelings for lost children, works toward an emotionally fulfilling conclusion without sacrificing the arch play of puns. The short "Duet" conjures up a rich set of existential ironies and effective intimations of the animal "other" while working within the traditional motif of the sea voyage: "The emptiness of the water/ means they're hiding, not/ that the dolphins can't see us./ If they look like sharks,/ imagine what we resemble." If Svoboda seems carried away by dense musicality, allusive content and gothic twists of grammar, readers will nevertheless find the waters here teeming with life. (Feb.)
Forecast:Zoo Press, in Lincoln, Neb., was launched last year by editor and Columbia MFA holder Neil Azevedo, who published 11 books of poetry, fiction and drama in the press's first year, and pledges another 10 titles in 2003, and 10 yearly thereafter. With quality covers and an "advisory board" of poetry heavy-hitters, look for Zoo to be a less glossy alternative for younger writers who don't quite make it into BigSmallPressMall.com.