Even the Smallest Bird Casts a Shadow: Poems
Publisher: Valerie Marie Leslie (July 17, 2015)
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Spanning adolescence to the murky adulthood of the early thirties in each thematic chapter, Even the Smallest Bird Casts a Shadow also casts a light on the familiar struggles of maturity, romance, independence, doubt, depression, and further into the experiences of growing at the end of the last century. Altered little from their original creation, preserving the “dysfunctional integrity” of the youthful poems, Leslie varies the breathless experience with free form, rhyme, and lyrical verse.

While plainly written for privacy and self-revelation, Leslie’s poems in nearly every form capture experience that might be known to any reader. Although each chapter covers roughly the decade and a half, there is a progression through the chapters that resembles the evolution of the narrative persona of Leslie. Back-to-school senses are evoked in the ramble of “During Science,” and there’s an affection to the poem “Hey Teacher,” which surely every high school writer has rendered some way. Heartbreak and romantic hope extend cover to cover but the early poems preserve the innocence of first attempts, culminating in the proud assurance of “The Ave Maria.”

As the collection advances, the reoccurrence of life’s distresses, financial struggles, social pressures, miscommunication, failed expectations, and romantic disappointments, couple with resilience, ambition, and determination to reveal turmoil that’s as close as scented memory. The fallibility of human intention is confronted in Leslie’s poems at the same time as the loss of certainty in what she, we, seek from a life of surviving.

The final chapters of supposedly reached adulthood still question the definition of that idea, and are laced with the aspirations and confusion of high school and college. The bitterness appears with simple sharp lines, “I didn’t get my degree for nothing,” and a young adult struggling to settle their purpose in life can find their frustration spoken from beginning to end in Leslie’s collection.

Many of Leslie’s poems are untitled, and several throughout question, explore, or verify a sense of spirituality, connection, and security in God. These chapters plunge into the despair of doubt, guilt, and depression. In a life seeking love, Leslie expresses from an emotional pain felt in ages beyond the experience of her poems.
Reading Leslie’s collection invited me to look back at memories and experiences of exactly the same time frame depicted, to question how I would define what I witnessed and learned then. The purpose of Even the Smallest Bird Casts a Shadow is to end a silence of self-doubt and shame, but it may easily motivate readers to delve into their past and youth for strength and inspiration.