Eliza Griswold’s debut collection of poetry, Wideawake Field, radiates through a journalistic eye. Perhaps this is too easy a comment given the author’s background in reporting, but it’s hard to avoid. The short, unornamented lines, terse titles, and quick but conversational rhymes move like field notes, like a diary kept under fear of forgetting the essentials. Griswold’s verse is starkly observational, yet humanly committed. Its impetus might be empirically minded reporting, but these poems allow, via graceful metaphor and astute reflection, the presence of person inside their descriptions of war, isolation, alienation, and family.
The only disappointment of Wideawake Field is its occasional reluctance to expand its range of response beyond that of the sensitive yet duty-driven war correspondent. Griswold’s poems explore frequent poetic topics, and sometimes resist performing any more work with those topics than simply pointing to them. Topicality and description can only carry verse so far, and Griswold’s most powerful moments come when she both internalizes her war-torn surroundings and re-projects them back onto her personal experiences.