Myra Schneider’s Lifting the Sky reviewed by Pippa Little
Lifting the Sky by Myra Schneider. £9.99. Ward Wood Publishing. ISBN:978-1-908742-68-1
Reading these poems on a dark winter’s day is to plunge into colour. Myra Schneider’s world is richly textured and layered, peopled with composers and artists for whom, like herself, colour is a necessity. Each poem is painterly, evoking a mood, a tone, along with shades and luminosity. But while her work delights in the natural world, the immediacy of life, it remains acutely aware of the vulnerability of our surroundings in this Anthropocene Age: in ‘Returning’ the poet’s delight in May’s ‘sweet extravagance’ is tempered by the knowledge that one season the ‘fescue, flowers, leaves’ may not grow back.
This sense of foreboding, and the difficult questions it engenders, adds a darker, more conflicted dynamic to the collection and sets up an interesting conversation between the poems. The opening poem draws us in immediately, balancing the inner and outer realms, the dark and light, and ‘Windows’ exults in the ‘luminous scarlet’ moment when upper windows are transformed by sunset after a November day of grey, hopeless ‘deep despond’, wanting to conserve this incandescence for the future, though knowing it to be impossible. Colour becomes a means of survival in both a spiritual and an artistic sense, a metaphor for being in the world. The joie de vivre of the voice is achievable only because of the struggle it has gone through, and continues to go through, against the colourless states of doubt, loss, grief, self-loathing, fear and depression. ‘To make sure every day is a finding’ (from ‘Losing’) is a hard and bravely won triumph. There is no flinching: the poet asks, twice, on facing pages: ‘Is this death then?’(‘Daggers of Light’), ‘is this death?’ (‘The Thing’). Humans appear as vulnerable in terms of survival as the natural world to which they have done such harm, particularly female humans who carry the historical weight of parents’ and children’s expectations and demands.
The long narrative sequence ‘Edge’ explores the situation of a woman for whom making art and fulfilling her domestic role become incompatible, a dilemma which makes her ill – though through her family’s support and her own rediscovered strength she finds her way again. ‘Love was it? Kindness?’ (‘Survival’) – these are the watchwords for Schneider, along with hope: the book ends with the line ‘rooms where hope is coming into blossom’. Hope lies in the so-called ‘small’ pleasures of a life: preparing food in a kitchen, dancing a tango, practising the slow, graceful movements of quigong, enjoying close ties of friendship. There are many lovely and important poems in this important collection. More than ever we need to listen to poets with Schneider’s long gaze and wisdom.
Pippa Little‘s collection Twist (2017), from Arc, was shortlisted for The Saltire Society’s Poetry Book of the Year prize. She is working on a third full collection and works at Newcastle University School of English as a Royal Literary Fund Fellow.