Meditation on Woman – Review by Carol Smallwood

Meditation on Woman is a collection of fifty-six prose 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, and Poetry Midwest.

A recent Poets & Writers featured six articles in a special section in the magazine from leading writers about inspiration: the importance of slowing down, making room for contemplation, and the possibilities for discovery for the creative writer. Meditation on Woman supplies readers with examples of this in abundance as this poetry collection turns the ordinary upside down, leaving the reader, man or woman, to look at things differently.

In the opening work, “The Third Eye”, woman catches the cycles of her garden on video-winter cracks the lens, spring splinters it as the cycles continue. “In the end, the lens cracks again, into many parts, facing down, angling up, fractured.  New shoots.  The gardener’s boots. Ants.  Blooms.  All splinter, like a kaleidoscope.  Her eye captures fragments of brown, green, blue, pink, the blinding yellow-white of the summer sun.”

The garden features in other poems too. “Eden” contrasts the garden dream with its reality; “Nature” addresses the distance between pristine and artificial nature; and the suburban attitudes in “Weeds” drives a woman into the city.

“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.  A woman’s connection to the world recurs in “Far and Near.” One woman “gazes out a plane window at fields quilting the landscape thirty-five thousand feet below,” while the other “hikes a woodland trail and stares into the underbrush.”

The first sees the world at a distance: “The roads make squares and rectangles around the fields.  Lakes are thumbprints pressed into the land.  Rivers squiggle and canals angle in thin blue lines.  Tree patches are dark and fuzzy.  Little towns clump together; house roofs glint in the sun.”

The second sees it in close detail.  “She picks a Queen Anne’s lace to take home.  It’s umbel is so perfect, the white lace fans out in a curve that fits in her cupped hand, and the tiny black floret draws the gaze of her eye to the center of its lacy snow, like a single jet against a sky full of clouds.”

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:

Staff only

Wait until called

Door to the outside world

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 is familiar with 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-edited (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 was nominated for the Pushcart. Women Writing on Family: Tips on Writing, Teaching and Publishing Key Publishing House is a 2012 anthology.

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