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SHJ Issue 17
Fall 2017

In Hubble’s Shadow by Carol Smallwood

Reviewed by Marilyn L. Taylor

Shanti Arts (2017)

Cover of In Hubble’s Shadow, by Carol Smallwood

In Hubble’s Shadow—an exceptional poetry collection filled 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 entitled “The Universe”—features a small galaxy of other-worldly poems, with content that includes a profound comparison on 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, “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 I 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, entitled “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.


—Previously published in (2 April 2017) and Midwest Book Review (“Reviewer’s Bookwatch,” Volume 17, Number 6, June 2017); republished here by author’s permission

SHJ Issue 17
Fall 2017

Marilyn L. Taylor

is former Poet Laureate of the state of Wisconsin (2009-2010) and the city of Milwaukee (2004-2005), and the author of eight collections of poetry, the most recent of which, Step on a Crack, was published by Kelsay Books in 2016. Her poems and essays have appeared in many anthologies and journals, including Villanelles (Random House), Poetry, Able Muse, Measure, Light, Rhino, Aesthetica, Mezzo Cammin, The American Scholar, and The Formalist. She has been awarded First Place in a number of national and international poetry contests, and recently received the 2015 Margaret Reid Award for verse in forms, as well as a 2016 Pushcart Prize nomination from LIGHT Poetry Journal.

Her widely-read “Poet to Poet” column on craft appeared bi-monthly for five years in The Writer magazine, and she currently serves as a co-editor for Third Wednesday and Verse-Virtual poetry journals.

Author’s website:

“...we have been born here to witness and celebrate. We wonder at our purpose for living. Our purpose
is to perceive the fantastic. Why have a universe if there is no audience?” — Ray Bradbury