Since 1996 Volume XXI

In Hubble’s Shadow

 by Carol Smallwood

Shanti Arts, 2017 Brunswick, Maine: 98 pages,  $14.95, paperback



            In Hubble’s Shadow—an exceptional poetry collection filled with with stylistic variety and thoughtful insights—vividly reflects the unique sensibilities of Carol Smallwood, its multi-talented author.

            Smallwood, who is also an editor and accomplished writer of essays and creative nonfiction, brings to her poetry a mature clarity and directness that’s currently not easily come by.  Her poems actually invite us in, focusing on everyday triumphs and losses, rewards and regrets, joys and disappointments—matters that both poet and reader care deeply about, especially in these uneasy times. 

            Smallwood has divided the book into four sections, loosely thematic.  The first — aptly titled “The Universe”—features a small galaxy of other-worldly poems, with content that includes a almost startlingly quick but profound take on the the remains of a dying star to the basic tenets of astrophysics, neither of which are beyond the poet’s imaginative scope.  This introductory section is followed by another titled “On the Road,” which finds poetry in unlikely places, including the local post office, dirt roads, and your local McDonald’s.  The most memorable of these might well be a short, deceptively simple observation entitled “The Bug”—which could put the reader in mind of Dickinson’s equally devious “A Bird Came Down the Walk:”

            The Bug

            was on the post office floor, so put it in my purse:

            I’ve seen its kind before but didn’t know its name.


            It liked Subway lettuce, the drops of coke;

            once home it joined my window plants.


            Its ancestors began millions of years ago—

            surviving countless species long extinct.


            If we but wait, we may see the coming spring.



            The second section is followed by a third, titled “The Hearth,” which focuses on matters closest to home.  One of its several small gems (nearly upstaged by clusters of carefully-wrought villanelles and pantoums) offers, along with its close examination of a sidewalk, a thoughtful nod to Wordsworth:


            the struggle of dandelions in

            sidewalk cracks each spring

            genders more hope than

            crowds of daffodils.


But it is in the final section, called “Sea-Change, “ where some of the finest poems in the collection have found a home.  A remarkable case in point:

            The Ache of Greening


            came today, a sharp surprise—

            although each year it does

            in early spring

            An ache erasing all

            remembrance of the fall

            to come


And another:


            Dry Leaves


            have the rustle

            of elders

            discussing youth—

            no longer tied down

            they travel


            It’s undeniable, perhaps, that these relatively brief examples of Smallwood’s work don’t do justice to many of the longer and more ambitious pieces in the book, including, for example, its abundance of well-wrought pantoums, sestinas and poems in other traditional forms.  Also quite captivating is the frequent presence of language play, and of prosodic experimentation throughout.  Some readers might agree, however, that many of the most successful poems to be found in the pages of In Hubble’s Shadow are those that are free of some of the heavy strictures of form.  Form’s innate complexities can, of course, be pleasing, and often add something intangible to the actual content of a particular poem.  On the other hand, some formal poems (pantoums in particular) will benefit if they’re not quite so heavily burdened with the required repetitions and rhymes; in other words, when their own clear light is allowed to shine through.

         Despite this lone quibble, however, I find In Hubble’s Shadow to be a moving and meticulously-written volume of verse.  From poem to poem, the collection exudes the elusive but unmistakable qualities of humility, perceptiveness, and wisdom.  Or, as Smallwood herself so eloquently expresses it:  The story lies with the interpreter.


                      Marilyn L. Taylor, Ph.D

Wisconsin Poet Laureate, Emerita

April 2, 2017


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