To be honest, I rarely read poetry collections cover to cover. I enjoy too much the freedom of opening a poetry book to any page and receiving a slice of meaning. When I do follow the “rules” and read the poems consecutively, it often takes me a long time to make it to the end. I revel in the ability to close the book for long periods of time and not feel like I have to start over when I pick it up again.
But once in a while, a poetry book grabs me in a different way and makes me sit down and dig in. Smallest Leaf by Lisa Toth Salinas did just that. I opened it to page one last Monday morning and finished it before I went to bed that night. And it was a delight.
I learned about Lisa’s book when I met her in November at the Poetry Society of Texas’s Annual Awards Banquet. Lisa lives in Texas, and Smallest Leaf, which is her first collection, won the Poetry Society of Texas Eakin Book Award in 2014. It is a gorgeous volume, both inside and out, including images of art (used as the inspiration for some of her ekphrastic poetry) and found poems.
I knew I was going to love this book from the very first piece, titled “How to Read a Poem.” It begins:
“Make yourself the smallest leaf
upon the tree and let the breeze
of gentle words begin to blow,
then loosen from your branch. Let go.”
I followed the poet’s advice. I let her gentle words wash over me and gave in to her voice. Lisa’s work covers topics close to her heart—art, ancestry, faith, family, nature. Some of my favorites were: “She is Not the State Bird of Texas,” “On Solitude,” “A Lesson in Trust at the Feet of Millet,” and “Inheritance.” They spoke to me with their simplicity, their thoughtfulness, their hope. Even the poems that didn’t resonate with me personally are full of the poet’s passion for the subject. I liked all of her work for that, for endearing me to her perspective on life.
However, what I enjoyed most about Smallest Leaf was the variety of interesting forms within its pages. Lisa writes free verse, rhyming poems, found poems, sonnets, and villanelles, but her work also includes less common forms such as pantoum, haibun, terzanelle, and gloss, which is a type of poetry I was not familiar with but am now eager to try.
I will end with a stanza from her poem, “Advice to a Poet,” which is a garland cinquain.
an empty page you must
hear what is not being said, then
My advice to you is to read Lisa Toth Salina’s book, Smallest Leaf. You can order a copy and find out more about her and her work on her website.
6 thoughts on “Review: Smallest Leaf”
I admire/envy other poets’ abilities to write in so many different forms. I am so terrible with fitting my initial stream of inspiration into a set form, that seeing other poets do it really is like watching a lion tamer coax the beast to open its mouth and let the tamer in. I will have to get my hands on Smallest Leaf. Thanks for the recommendation!
Me too! I’ve yet to write a successful villanelle. My form poetry still often comes out sounding forced.
How lovely to hear. I have always meant to hunt down an Eakin winner, but I haven’t gotten to it yet. Smallest Leaf looks lovely, and your review is very promising. It’s good to hear good things about a PST winner.
🙂 Yes! I agree! Anne McCrady was an Eakin winner back in 2003, and I recently read and enjoyed her book too. It’s called “Along Greathouse Road.”
It was such a delightful surprise to read your review of my poetry collection, Carie! I’m so very glad to hear how much you enjoyed it, and I look forward to reading some of the poems you come up with while experimenting with some new poetic forms. I enjoy how the constraints of form can often stretch the poet into new ways of saying things – and usually off in unexpected directions. Thanks again for sharing my book with your readers.
It was my pleasure! I love introducing friends to the works of local writers, and your collection definitely deserves some attention. 🙂