POETRY

If Men, Then

Farrar. Feb. 2020. 96p. ISBN 9780374280772. $24. POETRY
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A Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist perhaps best known for The Tenth Parallel, Griswold is also an accomplished poet. Her first collection, Wideawake Field, examined our shattered world, and she subsequently won a PEN translation award for I Am the Beggar of the World, which compiled Afghan women’s folk poems. Here she retains that engaged sensibility as she writes poems so emotionally charged they seem on the verge of spilling over. Often, her poems occupy spaces in refugee camps or at border crossings—“What can we offer the child/ at the border: a river of shoes,/ her coat stitched with coins,/ her father killed for his teeth”—and many bear witness to destruction, whether though battle or ignorance. There is also concern for the planet’s degradation: “Rats/ in the wheel wells, always rats and sickness, …and skies/ now empty of starlings, wheel themselves.” But Griswold also seems to be in search of a self who may be searching for a self: “I is a lion/ who snarls/ at the lion/ in the water/ who snarls.” And there is humor: “Exodus is a traffic jam/ and traffic jams are dangerous.”
VERDICT Palpable and provocative poems that can be appreciated by broad audience.

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