Smallwood Offers Style and Intriguing Content
– Book Review by Carole Mertz – December 22, 2018 –
Poetic Matrix Press, 2018, $17.00 USD
Carol Smallwood offers a captivating preface to this 2018 collection, her tenth published since 2014. “It’s the whispered that has the most impact,” she declares. She uses a quote from Octavio Paz to convey, in his words, “Poetry is not what words say but what is said between them, that which appears fleetingly in pauses and silences.” As a musician, I heartily agree, recalling how the musical rests in Beethoven’s compositions bear as much weight as the musical tones. Smallwood’s respect for the unspoken is evident in many of her poems.
As example, in “We Select” which forms the Prologue to this volume, the second and fourth lines repeat in their correct places as we move through the quatrains. A pantoum, it is a little masterpiece in its use of suggestion and the evoking of thoughts and associations that go beyond the page.
From the second stanza:
they return at unexpected moments, their clarity a surprise:
a sunset, muffled cry, a Thanksgiving dressing, smile of a friend
bringing feeling from depths we cannot withhold, disguise.
When we think of a Thanksgiving dressing, aren’t we likely to recall our own Thanksgiving events—the friends or family gathered, the full bellies, the communal experience? And what bundles of associations we attach to such words as “morning fog,” “the imprinting of first love,” and “path,” which also appear in this poem.
As I read through the seventy-one poems, many become favorites. They are organized into four sections. Smallwood moves easily from mundane items such as a button box to contemplations of the moon, or from thoughts about light to packets of salt that appear on fast-food trays. These shifts from simple to complex show us how thoroughly the poet observes the near and the far. The seeming simplicity of some of her themes makes them appealing to the lay reader, while her style and craft appeal to those who appreciate poetic forms. Smallwood frequently writes in villanelles, pantoums, and triolets.
An element of her style not to be overlooked is the oft-subtle humor she injects. In “J.C.Penney Litany” (p. 52) she speaks of the store’s offerings of “shirts on armless plastic, necks neatly chopped.” In “A Dishwashing Liquid Pantoum” (p. 67) we are wondering, after many long minutes considering which soap to buy, which one “she’ll” select. The poet writes:
when a man came, looked a second, walked away with one.
It was time to stop wondering about ULTRA, comparing scents,
studying price per ounce, if degreasing power was overdone…
The comparison between a male’s and a female’s shopping style written succinctly into this poem, brings an outright cackle.
More seriously, in “In the Civil War” (p. 48), she considers the minds of the soldiers:
Soldiers could smell smoke, saw light from battle
making soldiers think their mind must’ve unraveled
In “Icons” (p. 49) she considers the Mona Lisa and the Sphinx, and in “Sleeping Beauty” (p. 94) she asks “What would’ve happened if /she hadn’t been a beauty?” The variety of her contemplations is remarkable and refreshing.
Though this collection includes a near-excess of what I’d call list poems, they are redeemed by the poet’s elegant style and pleasing rhyme words. “Patterns,” in the Epilogue (p. 97), is as satisfying as the Prologue poem. It’s one that again uses that elusive skill of extending thought beyond what lies on the page.
Among Smallwood’s other works, I find Interweavings (Shanti Arts Publishing, 2017), an essay collection, particularly rewarding. During the past two decades, the artist has edited numerous anthologies of particular substance and service to librarians. Along with her offerings of valuable essays at the Society of Classical Poets (these define various poetic forms), her numerous prose anthologies serve a wide readership.
About the Author – Carole Mertz
Carole Mertz critiques poetry and prose for various literary journals, including most recently at Eclectica, Mom Egg Review, and South 85 Journal. Her recent poetry is at Muddy River Poetry Review, Front Porch Review, The Ekphrastic Review, and elsewhere. She assessed poetry submissions to Women’s National Book Association’s 2018 Poetry Contest and is advance reader in poetry and prose for Mom Egg Review. Carole resides with her husband in Parma, Ohio, where she teaches music to young children.
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