cover image If Men, Then

If Men, Then

Eliza Griswold. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $24 (96p) ISBN 978-0-374-28077-2

Pulitzer-winning journalist Griswold (Amity and Prosperity) examines the relationship between toxic masculinity, violence, and the creation of public narrative in her incisive poetry debut. Griswold suggests that the conventions of storytelling incite and erase violence against historically marginalized people: “Twenty men crossing a bridge,/ into a village,/ is not a metaphor/ but prelude to a massacre,” she warns. She highlights the way language distances viewers from the escalating violence that floods the news, suggesting various power structures inform which stories are told, and which elicit sympathy: “The Fox News guy slipping his phone number/ over the anchor’s desk,/ below the camera’s eye;/ the radio host calling her a failure for/ becoming a mother.” Griswold presents the news as inextricable from traditional beliefs about gender and power. Yet the speaker of these poems, “eager to share any awful story,” frequently calls attention to the variability of beliefs about storytelling, and it is in this instability that she discovers agency, hope, and the possibility of redemption. She writes, as though describing the movement of the poems themselves: “She was warden of an angry garden,/ guarding against what hoped to grow.” This well-timed exploration of violence and language is an exciting introduction to Griswold’s work. (Feb.)