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.