Weapons Grade: Poems
Reading Terese Svoboda’s poem “Vets” title to finish reminded me of a story of an older friend who marched against Vietnam early, before others had marched, and who told me of the veterans. Those veterans of earlier wars would march with the students, the protesters, the young, and the naïve. These veterans would encircle the protestors to protect them from those who tried to stop them. The police dared not stop the veterans—those people who lost their youth as they (once again) protected the innocence of others—now in their own cities. Reading “Vets” reminds me of that story because Svoboda’s veterans “march to quell youth–ours and theirs– / defining innocence, as vets do.”
In Weapons Grade, Svoboda’s themes diverge from what most readers might experience in their lives. Her poetry explores genetic experimentation on Black soldiers, suicide, and world events. This collection addresses violence, whether it is self-inflicted acts of violence or violence done to others, linguistic violence or the impersonal, militarized violence of the state. Svoboda’s preoccupation with the destruction that results from occupation and preoccupation is reflected in the poetry's own violence.
Women, for instance, are both perpetrators and recipients of violence. Svoboda creates a world where women are warriors, but their resolution and violence is not necessarily strength. On the surface their violence is destructive, but there is a truth to be found in destruction as well, and, in a way, Svoboda encourages the reader to embrace it.