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ZINES_Swan-DiveChapbook, Michael Prior, Frog Hollow Press, froghollowpress.com, $20

On a literal level, the term “swan dive” describes a graceful maneuver, but its plummeting connotations also make it a suitable descriptor for a negative event. It’s the latter use that sets the tone for this collection; these poems add up to a self-deprecating downward spiral, and Michael Prior seems content to fulfill his role as the defeated.

Swan Dive is divided into two major segments, “Ventriloquisms” and “Second Skins,” suggesting a retreat from the self, but it plays out more like a detached ob­servance of the self. Prior is thus able to maintain a sober wit throughout, wheth­er he’s tackling ventriloquists’ dummies — “Got wood? It’s all I’ve got” — or his own failed relationships: “You’re acces­sible, she says, meaning / I bore her.” A palpable cloud of rejection hangs over these poems, and even their titles read like amused sighs of resignation: “The Train’s Ceiling Has Been Painted To Look Like The Sky.”

When Prior plays with anthropomor­phism in his “Second Skin” section, the animals he inhabits don’t fare much bet­ter than he does: a hermit crab hides from intrusive beachgoers; lobsters lan­guish in traps; a jackrabbit contemplates “the world’s edge” at a riverbank. We even get a poem about lessons learned from the death of a digital Tamagotchi pet.

Watching someone fall apart from a safe distance is as alluring as you might imagine, and there’s enough humour here that Swan Dive shouldn’t drive readers to the same depths of despair. (Scott Bryson)

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