Sunday Poem – Myra Schneider

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Sunday Poem – Myra Schneider

No view today apart from the dark, and my own reflection in the window, and through the gaps of the houses opposite, I can see a few streetlights, and one window in the house opposite has a light on.  It’s only 10.30pm now, but it feels more like 2am, everything is so quiet.  When we first moved here two years ago, I couldn’t sleep because it was so quiet.  Our first house in Barrow was in a street where you could hear the seagulls all the time, so it took me a while to get used to not hearing them.  Now, of course, it’s quite nice not to be divebombed by seagulls between the front door and the car.

Today I went to Lancaster with lots of people from the Walney Wind Cheetahs and took part in the Lancaster Castle 10k, which actually turned into the Lancaster Castle 10.6k, as apparently some directional arrows were turned the wrong way, there were no marshals and lots of people ran the wrong way and got lost.  I was a bit gutted because I think I would have got a PB, but I suppose these things can’t be helped.  We had a nice day anyway, and I was 6th woman back which I’ve never been before so that was quite exciting!

Getting lost seems to be a theme this week actually, as I also went on a 10 mile run which turned into a 12 mile run on Wednesday with my friend Ian and forgot to turn left at a crucial junction, which meant we had to run an extra two miles and climb up a huge hill again, which nearly finished us off!

Apart from running and getting lost, I’ve also had an Induction Day at Manchester Met this week to prepare for the teaching that I’ll be doing there.  I don’t think anything can really prepare you for teaching apart from just getting stuck into it, I guess.

I’ve been working with Pauline Yarwood, the co-director of Kendal Poetry Festival on plans for next year’s festival.  We’ve already confirmed some poets (top secret, sorry, can’t tell you who they are) and are waiting to hear back from the remaining few.  Pauline’s been working hard on an application to a local charity and we’ve already sent that in.  This was the first charity we applied to last year, and when we were awarded the money, it really gave us a boost of confidence to apply for the rest of the amount to the Arts Council. I’m hoping this happens again this year!

Last night it was A Poem and a Pint with the fabulous Hollie McNish.  I’ve seen Hollie read a few times now – most recently (before last night) at Aldeburgh Poetry Festival.  At Aldeburgh she read a poem about class and accents and fitting in which made me cry, which I didn’t expect.  To cry, I mean.  She is a great performer of her work, not just the poems, but when she introduces them, she is very warm, very open.  It is a cliche but she really does feel like a breath of fresh air.  She is also a sharp and witty observer of life, or the kind of absurdities of life.  She writes poems that flag up things in life that we probably all pretend we don’t notice.    Anyway, last night at Poem and a Pint she was brilliant – the audience loved her.  I was the MC and kept forgetting to get up and introduce the next item, which is pretty standard for my MCing style!

The other thing I’ve been doing this weekend is painting the downstairs ‘middle room’ as we call it.  Do you remember that scene in Adrian Mole’s diary when he decides to paint the walls of his bedroom black to cover up the Noddy wallpaper, and the bells just keep showing through, no matter how many layers of paint he slaps on? Well in my more dramatic moments, this is how I feel about the middle room, except it is white paint, and it is patches, rather than bells.  Anyway, Chris has promised that one more coat should do it, so hopefully by this time next weekend, I won’t have to look at another tin of white paint for a while.

Next week there is lots going on.  My good friend Jennifer Copley is launching her latest pamphlet Vinegar and Brown Paper, published by Like This Press.  The launch will take place at Natterjacks in Ulverston at 7.30 – you can find more information here.  Members of Barrow Writers will also be reading and The Demix will be providing some music so it will be a great night!

I’m off to Manchester again on Thursday to have a meeting with one of my supervisors on the PhD.  On Thursday evening I’m reading at Black Cat Poets in Manchester, alongside the marvellous Emma McGordon, who was one of the first poets I ever saw read, so I’m quite excited about that! There is also an open mic for anybody that wants to come down and has a couple of poems knocking about that they fancy reading…

I’ve got Dove Cottage Young Poets session on Friday and then a Soul Band gig on Saturday and then rehearsals for The Wizard of Oz start on Sunday.  You will be happy to know that I’m not acting, singing or dancing in The Wizard of Oz, only playing the trumpet, which is probably a mercy for us all.

So this week’s Sunday Poem is by Myra Scheider, who has featured on the blog quite a few times in the past.  The poem I’ve chosen comes from her latest book Persephone in Finsbury Park,  published by Second Light Publications.

Rebecca, the poem I’ve chosen is very representative of Myra’s work.  I often come away from Myra’s work knowing a little more than when I arrived – I didn’t for instance know that a pogrom is ‘an organized massacre of a particular ethnic group, in particular that of Jews in Russia or eastern Europe.’

This word sits in the poem like an undetonated bomb.  There is nothing else said about the pogroms, yet that word shadows everything that follows and precedes it.  The idealistic rural life filled with cows that Rebecca ‘knew by heart’ contrasts with the new life in Stepney.  By the end of the second stanza, there is another story that is mentioned and then never returned to in the poem – the ‘six-year old Judith’ who is ‘scalded to death tipping water from a boiling kettle.’

I wonder if these stories will be developed in later collections or poems.  There is certainly a wealth of material here – although of course the story of Judith is alluded to with the story of ‘Isaac’ who wasn’t allowed to play indoors in case he comes to harm – presumably in the same way that Judith did.  Although ironically, of course, he suffers the touch of extreme cold, the opposite of what Judith suffered.

The lovely thing about this poem is the surprise that Rebecca is the grandmother of the speaker, and the realisation that this is family history that is being shared.

If you would like to buy a copy of Persephone in Finsbury Park, you can order one from Myra by emailing her at  myraRschneider@gmail.com.  This is Myra’s 14th poetry collection – previous collections include The Door to Colour, published by Enitharmon in 2014, and Circling the Core in 2008.  She also writes prose and edits anthologies and runs creative writing courses .

Thanks to Myra for letting me use her poem this week – if you’d like to find out more about Myra, you can have a look at her website here

 

Rebecca  – Myra Schneider

Somewhere inside me: snippets from her life,
that village a dozen miles from Vitebsk, the cows
she knew by heart, the grocery shop and pogroms

left behind for a cramped existence in Stepney:
families living elbow to elbow, her six-year old Judith
scalded to death tipping water from a boiling kettle.

These scraps and others are in a bundle much smaller
than the bundle of linens she heaved through years
of unpaved streets after her husband died,

selling on the never-never.  There’s little Isaac
who couldn’t keep still for a moment, never allowed
indoors on his own – such harm might he come to –

playing outside till her day’s slog was over, in winter
at the mercy of frost which sank its teeth so deep
into his legs the bite was still raw ninety years later.

There’s the tale of how she dug her needle wit
into the boy for fooling in his new secondary school,
being placed twenty-ninth, then of how proud she was

when he became, not the rabbi she’d dreamed of
in the tiny bedroom they shared for years,
but such a scholar he was paid to go to university.

Rebecca, grandmother I never knew, your son
always called you mother – I didn’t learn your name
until seven years after he died – I’m proud of you.

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