Yes, Poetry

Review: Poems on Nature, Femininity and Other Realms

Compartments: Poems on Nature, Femininity and Other Realms by Carol Smallwood (Paper, $15, ISBN: 978-1-937-53600-8, LCCN: 2011912611, 146 pp, 6x9, August 2011, Anaphora Literary Press, 163 Lucas Rd., # I-2, Cochran, GA 31014)

In our modern world and complex lives, we live in “compartments”-home, school, town, nature-the kind of compartments and realms Carol Smallwood explores, giving us what we know and questioning what we don’t. “The Morning Warbler” may be seen “if one walks the bogs,” she writes, “but does it sing in the morning?” What do we really know? Smallwood raises questions even as she leads us into a consideration of our own world with a direct, matter-of-fact approach. “Why Do Women Ask First about their children / when meeting other / women?” or “After a / hysterectomy did they package your remains in a / paper sack like the gizzard, heart, liver, neck, / inside a roasting chicken? 

Everything is delightfully jumbled, but beautifully detailed. “The Sewing Box,” just like Smallwood’s compartments, is filled with its own sub-compartments-thread bag, needle assortment, tray, and others-each, in turn, filled with its own details, whether a “myriad of spools,” “potholder loops,” or “a ring of white crocheted pineapples.” She ties these objects together in the poem and also from poem to poem. For example, she sews the ring of pineapples on a “new J. C. Penney’s case”; later, in the “Town” section, she gives us a poem called “J. C. Penney litany” with its “Flannel, Poplin, Wool, Cotton, Chambray, Chamois, Corduroy, Micro-suede” shirts and its “Amber, Indigo, Basil, Blue Abyss, Oatmeal, Olive, Espresso, Mushroom” colors, all in the “men’s section” with “not a man in sight.” 

The joy of these compartments is that they are all linked: the women’s objects from “The Sewing Box” and the array in the men’s section of the “J.C. Penney Litany”; the ants and spiders from the “Nature” section and the “Black Holes” from the “Science” section; and the questions that range through the book from “What’d happened to the Chinese damask / robe Nicolet had worn greeting the Winnebago’s at Green Bay?” to all the answers the poet would “like to know”—“why snow’s white” or “Why we know more of / the surface of the / Moon than ourselves.”

Everything builds on her prologue-how we live between “the highest mountain / and the deepest ocean” and how we are all these compartments rolled into one. In this collection, the reader can experience a journey through our shared world, a journey beautifully guided by this skilled and generous poet.

Aline Soules, California State University, East Bay faculty member, has appeared in journals such as Kenyon Review, The Houston Literary Review.

Review: Meditation on Woman by Aline Soules

Meditation on Woman, Aline Soules, Anaphora Literary Press, 163 Lucas Rd., Apt. I-2, Cochran, GA 31014; 2012

($15, ISBN: 978-1-937536-13-8, 6”X9”, 80pp.):

Meditation on Woman is a collection of fifty-six poems to be read slowly, a few at a time, to fully appreciate their impact. Each, simply and economically written, begins with the two words, “A woman.” Some of the journals that published a version a few of these reflective poems include: Kenyon Review, The Binnacle, Poetry Midwest.

A recent Poets & Writers featured six articles in a special section from leading writers about Inspiration—the importance of slowing down, making room for contemplation, and the possibilities for discovery. Meditation on Woman supplies readers examples of this in abundance as it turns the ordinary upside down, leaving the reader be they men or women to look at things differently.

The opening work, “The Third Eye”, is about a woman catching the cycles of her garden on video—winter cracks the lens, spring splinters it as the cycles continue. Gardening is mentioned in other poems too. The second, “Evolution” recalls the magical-realism of Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Isabel Allende: the blending of what is real and unreal as it relates a woman who grows a tail, senses what animals desire, joins them, growing a coat of hair like them as winter approaches.

Making one’s own world is also reflected in “A Question of Balance” where a woman ”…owns the river, owns every bird that skims….”In the surprising poem about a woman being roasted on a fire: “And as she turns, her eyes shimmer in tune with the heat and see in every direction. The earth, all motion, spins with her and she with it.”

Readers can easily relate to: “A woman is good at guilt. Palpable and breathing, it lives in her house. It lies down and sleeps in her spare bed” and understand the mixed feelings the duality in relationships: “The woman looks at her sister. She loves her and hates her as much as ever.”

The familiar scene of waiting for an x-ray, the description of hospital gowns, the gowns spilling over in bins, the closed doors marked with signs, makes the 134 words in “Horizon” especially memorable.

In each poem the poet is seeing herself and in the process, the universal—an activity so simple and yet complex, full of surprises and reflections of wonder. I’m looking forward to her next collection to savor, open my eyes, enjoy the company of a uniquely gifted poet. She clearly follows Doris Lessing’s advice: “Have you found a space, that empty space, which should surround you when you write?” Women will especially relate to this contemplative collection by Aline Soules, but they are so universal that men will appreciate them and be awed as well.

Carol Smallwood, co-editor, Molly Peacock, foreword, Women on Poetry: Tips on Writing, Teaching and Publishing by Successful Women Poets (McFarland, 2012); Compartments: Poems on Nature, Femininity and Other Realms, Pushcart Prize nominee (Anaphora Literary Press, 2011); Women Writing on Family: Tips on Writing, Teaching and Publishing, co-editor, (Key Publishing House, 2012); Writing and Publishing: The Librarian’s Handbook, editor, (American Library Association, 2010).