In The Illusiveness of Gray, poet Carol Smallwood shares recollections, revelations, and moments of inspiration sparked by a laser focus on surroundings. She proves herself versatile as a poet by including poetic forms such as triplets, cinquains, and tercets combined with occasional rhyme and a rhythmic litany of lyrical and memorable repetitive lines. Words from her prologue reveal much about the poet: “I knew the wonder had/ become a part of me.”
Her wonder at times morphs into moments of truth in poems such as “Holding on” and “Knowing.” Smallwood writes, “The earth isn’t the center (of our universe)” and “full of wonder as a child but knowing/ now why stars glow and twinkle and/ so much more—I long for the mystery.” In “We Hear” she captures an ageless personal quest: “discovering what lies deep within each of ourselves (is) more than a lifelong concern.”
At times, the thrum of our mundane existence is exposed and whatever joy we get from reading some of these lines reveal aspects we have no good cause to celebrate. From “The Line”: “Today the fast food place line was extra long” and “ignoring cholesterol, sugar, starch, and fat” and from “Observations from a Car”: “When a customer entered, one reflection/ disappeared and then the double reflection/ returned when the door shut leaving me/ with the theory of parallel universes/ and Alice in a place called Wonderland.” Images of time, reflections, and mirrors reoccur.
Smallwood skillfully captures random, uncontrolled things that the unconscious holds onto. Her poetry glimmers with bits of science, mythology, astronomy, and history as she strips away veneers of knowing much for certain. There is a vagueness and ethereal beauty to the color gray and it is that sensibility woven throughout Smallwood’s poems that makes them fascinating to read.
Poets, dreamers, and students of literature would find this book of interest. Smallwood’s forms of poetry are so varied, it might be worth challenging college students to seek out certain forms to read and see how thoughts can be chiseled into form and meaning.