Sunday Poem – Myra Schneider

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Evening all – I’m writing this feeling very sorry for myself.  I started writing it about 5.30 in a burst of enthusiasm and determination not to be up till all hours finishing it off, but I went upstairs to get something, sat down on the spare bed and the next thing I knew it was 7.30 and I woke up with a sore throat and feeling that special kind of rough that happens when you fall asleep during the day.

It is my own fault I fell asleep for two hours – yesterday we had Poem and a Pint with guest poet Zaffar Kunial and instead of going straight home afterwards and sorting my life out I went to the pub and talked non-stop for an hour.  In fact maybe that is why my throat is sore.

Zaff is currently Poet in Residence at the Wordsworth Trust – it was great to hear him read his poetry from his new Faber pamphlet as well as some new work that he has written during his time at the Trust.

When I got back from the pub I realised that I hadn’t sorted out the band folders and had visions of the 38 children in the band rifling through the folders on stage, pages blowing away in the breeze and decided to put the music in order.  It might seem like a simple thing to leave the children to find their own music, but if you think that, you obviously haven’t met my wonderful band, who have many strengths but the ability to find their music quickly is not one of them.  Sorting the folders out took me till about 2.30am and then I couldn’t get to sleep afterwards, the set list for the concert kept running through my mind and then when I did sleep I kept waking up, thinking I’d over slept.

The band played really well, especially considering that half the band was on the stage and half the band was in front of it which meant they were really spread out.  The half of the band on the stage told me afterwards they couldn’t really hear the other half and were just following the drummer and my amazing conducting skills.  Ok, I may have added in that last adjective.  Before the junior band, I played trumpet with the South Lakes Brass Ensemble which went great too.

Here is a picture of the junior band.

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Saturday was a bit manic – as well as Poem and a Pint I did park run in the morning and beat my last time of 23.36 – this time I got 23.09 so I was very happy.  I don’t think that is an adequate description of the dancing, star-jumping and general bragging that the poor husband had to put up with when my official time came through.  I was also third woman which I’ve never been before.  I have been fourth a couple of times and I suspect that there were a few women missing which explains my elevated position.  Not that I’m obsessing about it or anything.

Afterwards, I went second hand furniture shopping, after discovering that the type of writing desk that I would really like that will enable me to write amazing poems and never be distracted by Facebook again costs about £400.  I found a ‘double pedestal’ writing desk, that apparently used to live in a school and bought it for £60.  I’ve bought some paint and handles as well – have never painted furniture before but have decided the desk should be purple…I might even put some before and after photos up.  Unless I completely ruin the desk in which case I will never mention it again and don’t ask about it…

On Friday I did a session with the Dove Cottage Young Poets.  I decided what the group needed in their life was a sestina and I took along Kathryn Maris’s wonderful sestina ‘Darling Would You Please Pick up Those Books’ which you can read here.

I’ve never tried to write a sestina before.  In fact, I will admit to a dislike of them, apart from Kathryn’s which I think is fabulous.  I hate it when someone tells me before they read a poem that it is a sestina – I don’t really want to know – it either sounds like you’re apologising for the repeating words or showing off that you’ve written one.  Anyway, I had a go and I think it could work!  If it does work, it fits in with the sequence I’ve been working on and should really go in the collection, but if that’s going to happen, then I need to work on it quickly.

On Monday I had Soul Survivor rehearsal straight after junior band and then Tuesday I had a lovely chat with Sasha Dugdale about a project I’m working on to ‘translate’ poems by a female Burmese poet, Moon Thueain. I say ‘translate’ in inverted commas, because of course, I can’t speak, write or read Burmese.  I’ve been working from a literal translation and have been sending various emails back and forward asking questions of both the poet and the translator.  It is a really fascinating thing to do, and I’m really grateful to Sasha for giving me the opportunity. Sasha is the editor of Modern Poetry in Translation and if you have a spare five minutes, have a look at the MPT website.  It’s one of my favourite websites because they have a page where you can have a go at posting your own version of a poem from a literal translation.  As well as the literal version of the poem, there is a short essay from the translator which is always really interesting.

On Wednesday I had meetings straight after school in my new role as Music Service Liason Teacher.  I met quite a few teachers from various Barrow schools who were responsible for music.  Some of them I already knew and worked with, but some I hadn’t met before.  I was heartened by the enthusiasm for music that the teachers showed and disheartened by the same concerns that are always voiced which are how schools can afford to pay for quality music provision.

Last week I said in the balance scales of music and poetry, music was definitely winning.  This week I would say it’s an even draw, mainly because I was able to have the whole of Thursday to sit and read some poetry, as well as catching up with some admin like emails and invoices.  I had a really lovely day and spent most of it in my pyjamas.  I read two collections for the second time – I won’t tell you what one was, because I’m featuring a poem from it next Sunday, but the other was ‘The Door to Colour’ by Myra Schneider.

Myra has been featured on the blog before but I thought it was worth celebrating the publication of her tenth collection, ‘The Door to Colour’ published by Enitharmon.  You can order ‘The Door to Colour’ directly from Enitharmon or email Myra at myrarschneider@gmail.com if youw would like to buy a copy directly from her.

The collection, as you may have guessed by the title, is full of colour.  I’ve picked a poem that I hope shows this, but one that also demonstrates another preoccupation in the collection, which is the object poem.  Object poems are so often done badly, being the stock exercise that is trotted out in workshops, but Myra is a genius at them.  Her object poems are often held together by a thread of free association.  The poem is not really about the object – the object is merely the doorway or the path to a deeper concern.

Elsewhere in the collection we have ‘The Black Glove’ which conjures up a childhood memory of a mother lugging coal.  In the poem ‘Spoon’ we read ‘How easy to Thumbelina my body/into this bowl smooth as butter – the fit/is perfect’.  The poem carries on imagining shrinking to be small enough to fit into a spoon.  This impulse to explore the life of things is explored further by a short sequence called ‘Seeing into Things’ which I think is a great title.

There are also lots of poems about music – both Mahler and Beethoven feature but perhaps my favourite part of the book was a long sequence at the end called ‘The Minotaur’ which explores an alternative view of the Minotaur and Theseus, the Greek hero who comes to kill him.

I thought this sequence was as readable and as action packed as a novel – obviously not as long, but it had that same forward momentum and drive.  I would have loved to have posted the sequence up but it is quite long, so if you are interested I would recommend buying the collection.

The poem I’ve chosen, another one of my favourites is called ‘The Throw’.  I liked this one for many reasons – the careful details in the second stanza of the ‘minute gold elephants’ which ‘walk in perfect lines’ along ‘the embroidered roads of the fabric’.

I like that I was suprised by the ending, that last line ‘where I wish pain, all pain to vanish’.  Until this point, I thought the poem was just a really beautifully written poem about a gift from a son to a mother.  The last line, which brings in pain took me by suprise, but when I went back to the beginning of the poem again, I realised there was a shadow of this pain in the very first stanza, when the throw ‘becomes and extra skin/ one that’s kind to my uncomfortable body.’

This quiet phrase slipped by me on first reading, but now I find it quite shocking.  Or maybe shocking is the wrong word.  It makes me realise that I’m lucky, to not be uncomfortable in my body, to not have ongoing pain.  Despite this dark shadow in the poem, I think it is overall a very positive poem – full of colour and imagination and life – the mind in this poem continues to free associate and think and dream, even whilst the body creeps into bed.

Myra has her own website if you would like to look up more of her work which you can find here.   As well as ‘The Door to Colour’ Myra’s five collections with Enitharmon include ‘Exits’ in 1994, ‘The Panic Bird’ in 1998, ‘Insisting the Yellow’ in 2000, ‘Multiplying the Moon’ in 2004 and ‘Circling the Core’ in 2008.  Her poem ‘Goulash’ was shortlisted for the Forward Prize for the Best Single Poem in 2007.  Myra is a generous and enthusiastic teacher and currently tutors for the wonderful Poetry School.  Myra has recently co-edited an anthology of contemporary women’s poetry called ‘Her Wings of Glass’ with the fabulous poets Penelope Shuttle and Dilys Wood. The anthology is published by Second Light Publications.  You can find out more about the anthology here and get a special introductory rate if you would like to buy it.  The Second Light network is well worth checking out -they also publish a magazine for women’s poetry called Artemis, edited by Dilys Wood

I hope you enjoy the poem – looking forward as always to reading your comments.

The Throw – Myra Schneider

my son brought me from Thailand is magenta,
a royal marriage of violet and pink.
When I lay it on my bed over the quilt
from India it becomes an extra skin,
one that’s kind to my uncomfortable body.

How I love its minute gold elephants, each
the size of the top segment of my little finger.
They walk in perfect lines, head to tail,
along the embroidered roads of the fabric
and when I stroke one an elephant god appears,

becomes the memory of riding in a high place
on a huge blur of animal, becomes the elephants
living in Mimi’s flat.  My son has elaborated
on the heat in Thailand but here winter is trying
to sneak into the house and steal its warmth.

I creep into bed, invite the elephants to tiptoe
across my body’s pathways.  When snowflakes
begin to float whitely down I close my eyes
and they melt into the soft purplish mystery
of nothing where I wish pain, all pain to vanish.

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2 responses »

  1. a mea culpa comment. Just humiliated myself all over Facebook, whingeing about not having a Sunday Poem.Instead of reading attentively and seeing that it was there all the time. Woods and trees. Or something. Anyway. I love the textures and richness of this week’s poem that melt and run into the snowflakes of what feels like the way that morphia feels, a disturbing absolution. And the strangeness of the elephants ‘in Mimi’s flat’. I thought there was a deliberately long line that mirrored the head to tail procession of small elephants….but I think it might just be a format glitch. They’re all 5 line stanzas, right? Still, my world is put right. Thank you.

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