Poetry in motion

Myra Schneider in Arnos Park
Myra Schneider in Arnos Park, close to where she lives (Photo: Ana M Wiggins)

Poet Myra Schneider talks to Basil Clarke about the inspiration for her poetry and about her new book Lifting the Sky

Among the highlights of Enfield’s cultural calendar are the twice-yearly poetry readings held in Palmers Green.

The spring 2019 reading on 27th April will include the North London launch of a new collection by Myra Schneider, a founding member of the Poetry in Palmers Green group and a poet renowned for her ability to find deep meaning in everyday experience and balance despair at the state of the world with humour and hope gained from personal experience.

I met Myra in her house overlooking Arnos Park, where she has lived since 1965. “I love nature,” she says. “I grew up on the edge of the moors in Scotland and I miss the countryside.

“Arnos Park is my countryside now, I walk there every day, and a lot of my poems are set against the park.”

Myra had been writing poetry since her teenage years when, in around 1960, she was invited to join a group of well-known poets. However, they were “very precious and male-orientated” and this, she said, “put me off writing poetry for quite a long time”. Instead she started to write novels.

The books were written for children, drawing on Myra’s experience of bringing up a child and later working at a day centre on the Grahame Park Estate in Colindale, where her difficult but rewarding tasks included teaching deaf people.

Myra returned to poetry when Margaret Thatcher arrived in Downing Street and cut funding for libraries, cancelling novels designed to encourage teenagers to read. Her first collection of poetry, Fistful of Yellow Hope, was published in 1984.

I ask Myra what writing poetry means for her. She says: “I do it because I’m a compulsive writer. I think it’s a way to make sense of life, to give meaning to life, so to me poetry is deeply spiritual.

“That doesn’t mean it has to be serious and heavy. Humour can be useful in making a serious point – it can drive things without people noticing what has happened.

“Sound is important in poetry. The strict formal rules and metric writing have largely gone – that’s fine – but you must have some sort of form, some sort of music, some sort of rhythm. A lot of poetry isn’t doing that, or it may be obscure, and I think poetry should be understandable.

“Otherwise we lose a poetry audience, which is a shame – I don’t think poetry is only for people who write it.”

Myra’s new book is Lifting the Sky, named after a Qigong exercise. The theme is survival. In the last and longest poem – Edge – the first-person narrator goes through a period of intense depression and breakdown but eventually emerges renewed. It is fictional, but draws on Myra’s own spell of serious depression.

Narrative poems are a feature of Myra’s collections, perhaps reflecting her earlier novel-writing phase. Sometimes they re-envision legends; in her version of the Minotaur legend the story is turned on its head.

“The theme is not belonging, being a misfit, mistaken reputations. In my version Theseus is a villain and the Minotaur isn’t.”

I ask Myra about the Palmers Green Bookshop and the origins of Poetry in Palmers Green.

“Joanna Cameron managed the bookshop and put on poetry readings – she made it very much a social centre. When it closed she and I and Katherine Gallagher started Poetry in Palmers Green. We had readings in Palmers Green United Reformed Church, then in St John’s Church and now in St John’s Parish Centre.

“We have two main readings a year, with five poets, and music by the Helios Consort. Audiences find us very friendly, and the poets go away and tell their friends what lovely events they are.”

“We also run workshops and occasional readings in Palmers Green Library where we are poets in residence.”

Myra Schneider performs on Saturday April 27th at St John’s Parish Centre. For more information:
Visit facebook.com/PoetryinPalmersGreen

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