No Small Thing

By Ellen Rowland. Fernwood Press, 2023. 92 pages. $17/paperback.

The story in me is red
Not the red of anger
but the red of urgency

These lines begin one poem in this collection. A sense of urgency runs throughout No Small Thing; it’s intense and ardent yet rendered softly as light rain or a falling leaf.

In the universe of this book, miniscule details are as worthy of attention as large concepts. “I am drawn to life’s ordinary details,” the title poem begins, “the largeness of all we can do / alongside what we cannot.”

“How large,” Rowland says, “each moment feels when we pause to feel its weight.”

Rowland finds beauty in every aspect of nature: “tender tomatoes rouging in the morning sun,” “the tartness of blackberries / harvested on a cold back road,” “worm holed heads of curly lettuce—each like an elegant celadon dressing gown.”

This is Rowland’s first poetry collection. She has published two collections of haiku/senryu as well as a book of essays about parenting and living outside the status quo. She also writes often about self-directed learning.

Her life resonates with the Quaker testimony of simplicity. She lives “off the grid” with her family on an island in Greece. (She has also lived in New York City and Senegal.) Does this perhaps account for her deep familiarity with the joys of family, nature, and solitude?

Rowland’s writing pays tribute to a variety of influences, including Sufi and Buddhist as well as Native American and Japanese cultures. Several poems are in forms such as senryu, haiku, tanka, and haibun. In the end, all lead to the same place: the universality of human experience.

This is a book the reader can enjoy dipping in and out of, savoring one or two poems at a time. It’s equally rewarding to read it through from cover to cover. I appreciated the internal journey the book reflects, with one poem leading organically to the next so that I sometimes felt as if I were reading a novel page by page, or getting to know a friend, one conversation after another.

No small accomplishment.

Catherine Wald lives in New York City and worships at Morningside Meeting.

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