Basil Clarke reviews poet Myra Schneider’s new book
From a homeless man outside Sainsbury’s to starving musicians defying an invading army – the subject matter of local poet Myra Schneider’s new collection is wide.
But within Siege and Symphony there are themes that run through all the pages; Myra’s love for people and nature, her celebration of their resilience, but also her awareness of the threats that face them.
Arnos Park, at the back of Myra’s house, is her daily refuge. Cushion moss finds her, troubled by the “sad paragraphs in the paper”, visiting a copse in the park where she is struck by the vibrant green moss that cushions a fallen tree: “A green which fills my mind, feeds my arteries, a green that urges: never give up.”
But Myra doesn’t take the natural world for granted and is deeply concerned about how it is being polluted and damaged. Her poem Becoming Plastic ends with a vision of a midwife plucking a baby sheathed in plastic sheeting from a woman’s womb.
The opening poem, Resurgence, celebrates the resilience of nature. A sycamore, once a “singing tree for starlings”, has been felled. But despite its stump having been set on fire, Myra sees new buds and is “moved by the resolve to live in this world”.
The same resolve is the subject of the long poem that gives the book its title, Siege and Symphony.
This tells the story of the siege of Leningrad during the Second World War, drawing on diary entries by a 17-year-old girl trapped in the city, and the writing by Shostakovich of his Leningrad Symphony. It culminates in the performance of the symphony in the besieged city in August 1942, when conductor, musicians and audience were all weak from months of starvation.
Paintings are a frequent source of inspiration for Myra and the new book has a whole section of poems where a work of art has triggered a train of thought. In The Model a Matisse, painting is the starting point for a meditation about the subjugation of women.
Another form of social injustice that troubles Myra is the gulf between haves and have-nots, and in particular homelessness. She draws on incidents that she has witnessed; a man busking on a train, a boy sitting on the pavement in Mayfair, a homeless man in Arnos Grove who turns down her offer of a sandwich and asks for milk instead because he has lost all his teeth. She gives to beggars but is “pierced by shame”.
‘Siege and Symphony’ is published by Second Light Publications (ISBN 978-0-9927088-4-9) and all profits from sales go to the Woodland Trust:
Read an interview with Myra about her new book: