Since 1996 Volume XXI

by Joan Gelfand

“A Matter of Selection”

Carol Smallwood

Poetic Matrix Press, 2018

ISBN  978-0-9981469-8-0




A natural organizer of chaos, Carol Smallwood is a retired librarian, poet and editor of four popular anthologies.  "Poetry: Writing, Revising, Editing and Teaching" was named one of Poets and Writers best books for writers.


A student of the sciences, many poems in this new collection are inspired by cosmic themes and questions of natural selection: ‘Galaxies,’ ‘Choice of Navigation’, ‘The Universe’.


Smallwood’s previous collections also explore scientific and cosmic issues, in particular, "Divining the Prime Meridian" and "In Hubble's Shadow.” Smallwood is a member of the Society of Classical Poets.

"A Matter of Selection” continues this 'organizing of chaos.’ A full plate of artfully constructed poems, the pieces in classical form are especially compelling.


The opening poem "The Universe" uses the metaphor of quilting to ground from the world’s overwhelming vastness, to comfort her soul in the face of the great unknown, and to quell the anxiety that a lack of boundaries causes:



Using the villanelle form, the repeated lines mirror the repetition of the art of quilting:


“It must be true: The Universe has no edge or center as I’ve read

so, it brings me security to make patchwork quilts at night;

it makes sense to cut up pieces to sew with needle and thread’


The theme of sewing is employed through the course of the poem and, adhering to villanelle rules, the line is repeated in each stanza:


“It makes sense to cut up squares to cut with needle and thread’


The line makes for a lovely meditation on modern life; the old ways that still matter, crafting, quilting, sewing still serve a need; the creation of order out of chaos, calming and the need for creation.


In other poems, Smallwood uses form to wonderful effect: In “Dog Days Triptych” she explains where the expression ‘dog days of summer’ originated. Using the form of Triolet she repeats:


“The ancient Greeks needed to explain illness, storms”


This thread, along with a meditation on the constellation Sirius, or ‘the dog’ is repeated throughout the poem, another example of ‘making order into chaos.’



Being a Mid-western poet, many poems concern themselves with the cycles of nature, exploring the ‘matter of selection’ theme; who lives, who dies, and why.


Threshing, dormant fields, flowers in road cracks, the cancer ward and the perennial plowing of snow are all given their due. I particularly loved “The Water Cycle Selects”


“the water that falls on your umbrella has a good chance at having been around,

since the planet cooled – a seasoned traveler of sky and ground in many places

Appearing as ice, fog, rain, snow, clouds and oceans cover 73% of our ground “


Using form and recombinant rhyme (internal rhyme) and repeating the word “ground’ Smallwood uses repetition to show cycles, nature’s repetition, order out of chaos.



Other poems explore the ironies of modern life: “Prufrok’s Napkins” describe the many different ways that fast food companies dispense napkins using the Cinquain form; And in “Septet” “Entering philosophy class/ I know room 207 is room 207/exiting I’m not so sure; in “Answers I’d like to Know” ‘why we know more/of the surface of the moon/than ourselves.”




In the end, Smallwood’s 'whispers' (as the poet calls the best poetry) remains a salve on life's bruises and pain.



Joan Gelfand, is the author of three well-reviewed poetry collections and a book of short fiction. Her new book, “You Can Be a Winning Writer: The 4 C’s of Successful Authors: Craft, Commitment, Community and Confidence” is published by Mango Press. The book is available on Amazon, Indie Bound and mango.bz



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Mary Barnet


Grace Cavalieri

Joan Gelfand

Janet Brennan