Review by Lara Lillibridge
Carol Smallwood has published numerous titles of nonfiction and poetry—over five dozen according to this book’s About the Author page. Smallwood’s Women on Poetry: Tips on Writing, Revising, Publishing and Teaching is on Poets & Writers Magazine List of Best Books for Writers. She has been nominated for multiple Pushcart Prizes and won the National Federation of State Poetry Societies Award; Franklin-Christoph Poetry Contest Winner; Eric Hoffer Award for Prose; ByLine 1st Place for First Chapter of a Novel. Thirteenth Annual International Ultra-Short Competition Honorable Mention, 2016. (www.pw.org)
Interweavings is a collection of 43 essays, organized under seven headings: Visits, The Feminine Side, A Sense of Place, A Backward Look, Things Literary, Strands, and Observations.
The majority of these essays are very short—only a few pages long. Working mostly in first person, Smallwood occasionally delves into the third person as well as she looks back and ruminates on life, libraries, and feminism, among other topics. Her love of books and the writing life is evident in nearly every essay. Fans of her poetry will love the ability to have what feels like a cup of tea with Smallwood—a glimpse into the many thoughts and observations she has on life. As I read the collection, I kept thinking about my mother, who came of age at about the same time as Smallwood, and wondered what discussions they would have if they sat down together.
The tone of the collection is conversational and includes many references to literary works Smallwood has loved. While at times I wished she would linger longer over some topics, the book circles and weaves down many paths and crosses back again, so topics began in one essay are revisited by the end of the book.
While many essays are rooted in place (libraries in particular) “The Avon Visit” is rooted in time, but fluidly nostalgic, as thirty years of Avon catalogs and products bend memory: “When I needed to remember what being in love was like, Honeysuckle brought a hint of the perpetual spring back” (28). I could relate to that transportation through scent—the body lotion my college roommate introduced me to, or my mother’s Jean Naté After Bath Splash.
“Karen’s Visit” was one of my favorite essays for the way it revealed the narrator. I am always struck when a writer reaches those feelings beyond cliché and manages to describe something true—not necessarily a large moment, but those feelings you can’t quite put into words. For example, Smallwood’s line, “Her voice had such sadness that I wanted to show her it was possible to have dreams…” (33).
However, “A Shakespeare Bust” spoke to me the most. I, too, have held onto catalogs, pined over objects for years, and understood Smallwood’s trepidation about the changing world we inhabit, where technology is granting us more access to information than we can ever hope to disseminate. I think my favorite line from the book was in this chapter: “In these days when people are living longer, holding several careers in a multicultural world, we need a bust of Shakespeare on our shelves more than ever” (122).
Interweavings: Creative Nonfiction
by Carol Smallwood
Shanti Arts Publishing, 2017, $16.95 [paper] ISBN 9781941830468
Lara Lillibridge recently won both Slippery Elm Literary Journal’s Prose Contest and The American Literary Review‘s Contest in Nonfiction. Lara’s memoir will debut in November of 2017 with SkyHorse Publishing. Some of her work can be found on her website: http://www.laralillibridge.com/