Review of Judith Skillman's "Angles of Separation" |
by Carol Smallwood

     Buying a new poetry collection is like investing in a travel ticket—the excitement begins when a book arrives with shiny cover and unexplored pages; the cover art of Angles of Separation is Edvard Munch’s oil painting, “Separation”  from the Munch Museum in New York. There is an epigraph from Osip Mandelstam’s Tristia about separation; a dedication; acknowledgments. There isn’t a foreword or preface and the fifty poems are divided into four parts with a page of Notes at the end, followed by an About the Author page, and a page of titles by the poet. I avoid the back cover, blurbs, author page, until writing  the review.
There is great energy in Skillman’s work, cosmic power as in “A Sliver of Heat”: “At night the earth collided with comet hair/ and you wanted to tip the Milky Way/ into your parched throat.” In the 3 page poem, “Thrum and Goad” are the lines “I hunger for what is true” and yet the last stanza begins “I yearn for the cessation of wing beats.”
Some of Skillman’s work reminded me of T.S. Eliot’s meditative darkness of modern life, his examination of time and meaning such as in her short narrative poem where emptiness is echoed in the last line: “But when I return to the kitchen, nothing lives there, nothing fills the saucepans fitted like Russian dolls one inside the other inside the other.” This search for meaning is repeated in “Cause and Effect” where things mock, cruelty thrives and there is a pattern of violence to those who listen, those who want to hear and have enough courage.
This is a poet who bravely addresses the brevity of life and is a close observer of nature from animals, birds, trees, the water lily, grasshoppers, and the wind. This American poet’s sweep is wide: from shingles on skin, eating tongue, bluebells, starlings sitting on wires, seasonal affective disorder, Shakespeare’s characters—and her look is clear, economical, without sentimentality or illusion. And yet she also notes that the world has too much beauty to be understood.
I would have liked more on the back Notes page to explain words such as Kore, the Judas tree, Macabee trap, geodes, and the passages in French; giving the four parts names would have been helpful to me as a reader. I’m looking forward to her next collection—the travel time with Angles of Separation, seeing her landscape, was a memorable trip.

The most recent books of this multi-award recipient are: The Phoenix: New & Selected Poems 2007-2013 (Dream Horse Press, 2014); Broken Lines—The Art and Craft of Poetry (Lummox Press, 2013). Some of the poems in this collection have appeared in: Prairie Schooner; The Aurorean; Athenaeum: Best Indie Verse of New England.

Carol Smallwood’s recent books include Water, Earth, Air, Fire, and Picket Fences (Lamar University Press, 2014) and Writing After Retirement (Rowman & Littlefield, 2014). Carol has founded, supports humane societies.