Achieving lyricism in free verse narrative poems is like walking a tightrope. The poet can fall into lines full of beautiful language and music and lose the story, leaving the reader wondering what that poem was all about. Or the poet can focus so heavily on the narrative that the reader wonders why the poem wasn’t written as a short story or bit of creative nonfiction. Eric Greinke, in his new collection called Break Out, walks that tightrope with confidence, making poems that engage as strongly as any well written short story while retaining rhythm, music, and surprising language.
In this volume of forty-one poems, most pieces are solidly narrative with a clear plotline, occasional dialogue, detail that brings a vivid picture of time and place, and an ending that usually surprises and sometimes shocks the reader. But Mr. Greinke never forgets the elements that create poetry. Read aloud and listen to the rhythms in the opening lines of "A Human Chain":
A farmer from Georgia & his wife
were on the beach at Panama City
celebrating their anniversary,
when they saw a group gathering
on the sand beside the pier,
The insistent rhythm is sustained through the entire poem, pushing the narrative of a life-saving event. When we reach the final lines, after a happy resolution, we read
Like ants, they had touched
that place deep inside
where survival begins & ends.
This unexpected conclusion is more than an odd comparison. It might also be a philosophical question, a thought that may cause the reader to stop, think, then go back to reconsider the whole well-crafted poem.
Some of the poems in this collection are about issues we see in the news; homeless people, domestic violence, child abuse, racism, and more. But the poems are always driven by individual human stories, never pronouncements, or sloganeering. Each story is honest, with the poet’s real reaction delivered in a way that shows his close attention and emotional involvement.
But not all the poems in the collection are issue-based. There is a touching love poem called "Love Match" which is full of wild connections listed in a litany of lines that end with these four;