Reviewed by Aline Soules
In Hubble’s Shadow
by Carol Smallwood
2017, Brunswick, Maine: 98 pages, $13.83, paperback
As Carol Smallwood states in her introduction to In Hubble’s Shadow, humans “have a very strong tradition of still believing that our species is absolute, that things do revolve around us as human beings, that we are the ones around whom the sun rises and sets.”
From that premise, she explores the world, knowing, as both she and Edwin Hubble know, that we are not the center of the universe, but privileged to hold a place in the universe that allows us to see the world in all its myriad forms. Her poems travel from existence itself (“Prelude—the Universe”) to the smallest of things (“Two Gloves in the Post Office Lobby,” “Grandmother’s Cookies,” “Ice in Lemonade”) to the world beneath our feet (“Epilog—Little is Known”).
Just as Hubble, the astronomer, explored the minutiae of the universe in space, Smallwood focuses on the minutiae of life to reveal and illuminate the universe in a different way. Her sections—The Universe, On the Road, The Hearth, and Sea-Change—each take a different approach to examining the small.
In “The Universe,” she explores patterns. “Even though it was yesterday I studied the waffle pattern on a cone,” she writes as the opening for “Before I Have to Go Home.” “Photographs” begins with the view of the earth from space (“naked blue marble / with cloud wisps”) and ends with a child’s view of a globe where Florida is orange and Japan purple.
In “On the Road,” she begins with “My Side Road in Spring,” an unpaved road with puddles that lead her to “subterranean dreams” and “fields of melting snow with fiery / lava churning below.” She ends the section with an “Ode to Mud,” where the dirts roads are “harbingers of spring…reflecting / your place in the universe.”
“The Hearth” stays close to home—three dolls, kitty, cookies, bugs, and more dirt roads. Everyday items, like a washing machine, ice cubes in summer, tips of yellow onion plants emerging in spring wrestle with the realities of blood tests and cancer.
“Sea-Change” stays with the small—a jewelry box, dry leaves, a field—but also stretches out to the larger universe of the changing seasons, dreams of flying, and looking to the sky for tranquility.
What’s interesting in all of Smallwood’s work is how she manages to put together myriad disparities to create a whole. Thematically, these poems are drawn together by the overarching concept of exploration of the universe, but the poems themselves are as diverse and disparate as poems from different authors. The poems are long and short. They are long-lined and short. Their stanza structures vary considerably. Yet, her voice shines through, along with her ability to convey ideas concisely in a rich tapestry of images.
About the reviewer: Aline Soules’ work has appeared in such publications as Kenyon Review and Houston Literary Review. Meditation on Woman (Anaphora Literary Press) and Evening Sun (Andrew Benzie Books) are available through amazon. Her blog is at http://alinesoules.com.