Some months ago I was delighted to receive Myra Schneider’s latest poetry collection, The Door to Colour from Myra herself. A mutual friend, Sonia, had lent my book The Sun Bathers to Myra, and Myra got in touch to ask if I would like to be one of the poets reading at the event she has been involved in organising for many years, Poetry in Palmers Green. I used to live in Palmers Green and am looking forward to listening to the music and poetry and reading my own at the event in October.
Myra had personally inscribed her book and sent it to me as a swap, and I immediately felt I’d done rather well since The Door to Colour has seventy-nine pages and is a lovely looking collection published by Enitharmon press, publisher of five previous collections by Myra. For once, the observations on the back cover (taken from reviews in Poetry London, Acumen and Artemis) are spot on. Here is the one from Acumen.
Myra Schneider has become an essential poet. Nobody else manages her fusion of the domestic and the global as well. Nobody else manages her fusion of the sensual and the spiritual as well.
William Faulkner said ‘ A writer needs three things. Experience, observation, and imagination, any two of which, at times any one of which, can supply the lack of the others’. It seems to me that Myra is able to fuse all these things at once. There is a quality of attention, an intensity to her observation which melds seamlessly with imaginative travel and a sense of shared humanity and compassion which can only arise from experience.
For a long time after Myra’s book arrived I didn’t read past the first few pages. There are a number of reasons for this. Firstly, I was busy. Secondly, I think I was daunted by how rich the book was; I wanted to set it aside until I could immerse myself properly. And thirdly, I found it difficult to stop reading and re-reading the opening poem ‘Le Citron’ .
As you will no doubt have guessed from the title of Myra’s book, colour is one of its keynotes, and there are poems which take work by Hockney, Chagall, Matisse and others as starting points. Many of these poems seem to be written out of a sense of rapture at the gift of colour and are a celebration of being alive. These poems are also extraordinary in that they make the reader aware of the sensual vibrancy of existence; they provide something akin to a medative or ‘mindful’ state in which it is possible to notice and experience the moment. It seems that it is increasingly recognised that this state of noticing is vital to our mental health, and has been greatly challenged by the rush and ephemera of much of twenty-first century life.
I wanted to share this poem ‘Le Citron’ with you and am delighted that Myra has agreed to let me do so. As I said earlier, I found it hard to read beyond this poem. I think that one of the reasons for this is that I found it so potent that I didn’t need anything else. Much like a poem by John Donne or Andrew Marvell, it is as if a small pipette-full of poetry of this power is more than enough to sate my need to be taken somewhere other by a piece of art.
I’d read and re-read it, marvelling at its stimulation of all the senses ( how ‘right’ is this line in sense and musicality – ‘Its tang / is sharp as frostnip yet not hostile’) – the clarity of its vision, the perfection of its form, the scope of it’s potential as a metaphor and the fact it seems to glow on the page. Their is also the mystery of the last line. As well as reminding me of the chorus of the Small Faces ‘Itchycoo Park (it’s all too beautiful ,) it suggests essential need for all things to find comfort in their surroundings, in this case some literal softness in stark environment. This perhaps hints at an understanding of the pantheistic nature of things, and also of how intense focus on visual beauty of an object, and maybe even a human, might lead to the neglect of the essential need for a sympathetic environment and the avoidance of isolation.
Finally, I have included an image of Manet’s painting ‘Le Citron’ at the bottom of the page, ‘bedded on a plate whose mood is olive. ‘ Before I saw Manet’s painting I felt I had already seen a vision of this lemon- it was exactly as Myra had made it appear in my mind’s eye.
The Door to Colour (2014) is available from Enitharmon press.
Day after day I contemplate this lemon,
the small weightiness of its rounded body
bedded on a plate whose mood is olive. Its tang
is sharp as frostnip yet not hostile,
its skin landscaped with yellows that sing
in counterpoint to mustard and leaf green.
When I journey to the points at each pole
I’m touched by their vulnerability.
At dusk the plate’s faintly rimmed with silver
as if dreaming it’s moonshine and the lemon
swells to a globe which illuminates a room
yearning for furniture, flowered curtains,
the comfort of carpet. I can hardly bear
to see it in such isolated splendour.