Eliza Griswold’s book Wideawake Field is not new.  It was published in 2005, but it describes conditions that are as much with us nine years later as they were then.  Many of her poems are poems of witness; she is a journalist who has worked in many difficult locations.  Other poems focus on relationships, primarily their ending.  Here is one of the poems describing a harsh world:

Monkey

The soldiers are children and the monkey’s young.
He clings to my leg, heart against calf―
a throat filling, refilling with blood.
Last week, the children ate his mother―
dashed her head against the breadfruit.
A young girl soldier laughs,
tears the baby from my leg
and hurls him toward the tree.
See, she says, you have to be rough.
When she was taken, the girl’s
heart too pulsed in her throat.

This poem combines a relationship and her work context:

Hi-Lo Country

Only today did I think of your gear:
chalk bags, cam lube, harness, friends―
all lying about taking care.  You play
with death up there; the good kid’s hit,
risk’s cheap high, like whippets,
ve never done whippets,
and neither have I.  You gasp at the welts
on my back left by Congolese fleas
as if my job were an affliction.
Look at yourself on your knees
in the most beautiful place in the world,
craving fear.  That’s addiction.

She leaves it open which, the speaker or the addressee, is the more addicted.  It seems ― and is certainly appropriate ― that Griswold turned to poetry to help her work through some of the ambiguities of what she has done and what she has seen.  “Authority” describes some of these ambiguities, in remembering a past incident:

The flaming city makes it rain.
The siege has changed the weather.
We lie together on the luggage:
the generator that won’t work,
a poisoned rice sack.
This is so many years ago
and fifteen seconds.
I’m embarrassed to remember
the time before I grew
uncertain about you,
or that I had a right to say
where I had been
and what I saw there.

Griswold says a lot in short, tight poems.  I recommend this book because these poems make vivid some of the situations in the world which flood our news, yet are kept at a distance by the television or computer screen.  This is important work for poetry to do.

 

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