by James Sale Carol Smallwood In the Measuring is a substantial new collection of 77 poems by Carol Smallwood. Carol is well-known to readers of The Society of Classical Poets, as her poems regularly appear on its site; and furthermore, she is a well-respected and widely published poet throughout the USA too: there is a long acknowledgements list as to where many of these poems first appeared. The first thing I'd like to comment on is, of course, the number of poems in the collection. My last review had 88 poems and the one before 33, so for some odd reason I seemed to be faced with not only literate poets but numerate ones too, or at least ones who wish to use numerology in the same arcane way that they will wish to use words. What, then, does 77 mean? I cannot of course be certain, but 7 is the perfect number combining the totality of heaven (always represented by 3) and Earth (represented by 4 - the four corners, the four winds, etc.). And so double 7, or 77, is a double measure of that span: an overflowing of those sublime things above, and those more mundane, quotidian, things below. But I also think that 77 is a reference to Jesus' words in Matthew 18.22 when asked how many times we had to forgive our neighbour: not 7 times, but 77 (Hugh J Schonfield translation – some have 70x7). The point is, whereas the title of the poem 'measuring' implies judgement, the numbering sets mercy against it. There is in Smallwood's work an infusion of compassion for all the stark observations that the poet notes or makes. The book is divided into 6 sections: Prelude, The Domestic, Sea-Change, Slant, In Passing, Epilogue. The Prelude and Epilogue are only one poem each, and so the bulk of the work is in the four main sections. Perceptive readers will already note that the titles of the four sections intimate something of the heaven/earth dichotomy, link or measure, that I alluded to earlier. The Domestic, for example, having a very 'earth' or mundane feel to it, whilst Sea-Change (with its understated nod to Shakespeare's The Tempest) deals with something more elevated. Thus, as a reader, I find myself little interested in poems like: Black Ants Came to check my kitchen around the 6 o’clock news, plump as ripe blackberries. Where they came from I do not know but they were gone by midnight news and Memorial Day mattress sales. Which seems inconsequential, even as an observational point. But in contrast, I think her poem "A Brief Look" truly wonderful: A Brief Look Beauty comes at ordinary moments full grown, unexpected and leaves us gasping – suspended – caught off guard. We try to grasp it again and when we can’t are rejected and pursue in desperate, determined disregard. Our dullness removed by a brief look at the sublime, we try to grasp it again and when we can’t are rejected, crave for any insight, revelation – the meaning of the time. Beauty comes at ordinary moments full grown, unexpected. From the first line, which I love, the whole poem comes round to re-stating its final line; it's as if what has been stated is so true, so beautiful in itself, the only way to develop the idea is to say it again! And, of course, the idea that beauty comes in ‘ordinary moments full grown’ hints at epiphanies, the mystical, and the goddess Pallas Athene herself – wisdom – springing fully-armoured and fully grown from the head of Zeus. In other words, what the poem asserts is that beauty (like wisdom) is axiomatic and so needs no proof, but instead arrests the viewer. Truly, a revelation of a poem – itself full of insight. And this leads on to an overview of Smallwood's collection. Yes, there are several poems in it that I don't rate much at all, but there are many masterful (if she will forgive that gender-specific adjective) gems which really shine. Her best poems are those which display mastery of form, rhyme, refrain and what I would call an intense concentration of language and ideas. She really is like, to take an analogy, one of those sword smiths who hammer the metal again and again and again till it becomes unbreakably hard, and sharp, and so is fit for purpose. Let me now, therefore, just point to a few beauties in her work that I particularly admire. Her poem, "How Could Early Life" is a short poem of 5 lines but its second stanza creates a sense of awe: Seeing stromatolites living today makes one stare in equal fear and longing – to fathom the beginning. This perfectly encapsulates a certain sense of wonder at life, even considering the smallest of things. Further, there is, I think, a marvellous technical point - a sort of mimesis - in the pararhyming of "longing/beginning": the rhyme aches to be a full rhyme but isn't, just as we ache to know our beginning, but can't. Certainly, Smallwood’s poetry is measured to an exact and exacting degree. "Catching On" demonstrates in its very title a mindful ambiguity in the title. Do we ever really 'catch on' to – and genuinely feel philosophies like Copernicus', or Darwin's, or "women's equality", or do they all simply remain fads that we pay lip service to whilst we remain the ego at the centre of our own universe? Clearly, reading the whole collection, Carol Smallwood is a feminist, but not an ideologist who as a result of their ideology has sacrificed all their intelligence and so ends up in the Orwellian position of bleating "four legs good, two legs bad" (for which read: women good, men bad, or any other binary opposition). A great example of her intelligence and perceptiveness is in her poem, "Examples." Smallwood indeed observes that in China women's feet are bound (painfully) so that they may have small feet and marry well; seemingly a protest then? Maybe, but then we learn: Western women believe themselves free of such things... And she then begins to detail her own enslavement to wanting to match the stiletto heels worn on Netflix's House of Cards. It's insightful, it packs a punch, especially given she gets at the heart of the problem, if problem it is: namely, our tale of Cinderella's small slipper. In other words, myth, or the archetypes of who we are. The implications of this are not spelt out directly, but from this reader's perspective they seem very clear: you can mount a 'Me-Too' campaign and—with luck—shut down women in China binding their daughters’ feet. But as you shut it down the same myth—or reality—underlying human nature will pop up elsewhere and manifest itself in another form, another ritual. The fundamental flaw of feminism is that it is purely political; it never addresses the issue of human nature, and the flaws running through both genders. Put another way, it's utopian, and like all utopias, it will fail. Of course, I fully accept that Carol Smallwood may never accept my interpretation of her poem in this way, but the fact that I can make it is why her poems are so interesting. This issue of gender and of myth is also explored poems such as "Sleeping Beauty," "Why Do Women Ask First," "Waiting for the Dental Hygienist," and "I, Divine." Space prohibits my exploring them in much more detail, which they deserve; suffice to say, I recommend them to all readers of her work. And one great line of hers that says so much and seems to be a measuring line itself is: "It's wise to detect differences in what seems the same" from "Seeing the Whole." The whole collection is full of these "detections." Thus, I am a great admirer of Carol Smallwood’s poetry, although I scarcely can say that I share her philosophy or feminism. But her writing is structured, powerful, insightful and oftentimes surprising. I found myself quite frequently finding a line or two that would take me aback, and I’d say to myself, "what a great line!" To end, then, with one of them – from "Knowing": Venus, the admired morning star, is a sulphuric hell That is so good – literally, as a description of Venus, the planet, but also it hints that love itself can be just that: a sulphuric hell. I imagine Carol Smallwood must be a very grounded, and very droll person! Do get a copy of her book and enjoy it for yourself.