… For when I shut myself off the outer tick
I find myself listening to the quickening beat
of this dear planet as if it were my own heart’s clock.”
The Composition Hut, Myra Schneider in What Women Want
In this short collection of nineteen poems – including the ten-page narratively-driven long-poem, Caroline Norton – Myra Schneider manages to cut through our many-layered lives. Her poems often move from the intimacy of personal experience to a broader frame of reference. The opening poems are nature-and-spirit driven and bespeak a love of and concern for environment. The second part of the collection fulfills the polemic promise of the title to present hard lives and harder times in a clear and righteous outcry.
Among the opening poems is Losing, written for her publisher. Myra starts with the unimportant lose of socks and moves on to finding what is valuable:
“a sparrowhawk perched on your gate, eyes alert
for prey, words that toadleap from imagination,
from heart – to make sure every day is a finding.”
In two poems she hints at the symmetrical beauty of mathematics, “… the square root of minus one you once grasped, dumbfounded.” A visit to the Garden is bursting with color and movement and triggers speculations …
“but what does it matter? You know too well
how the years have shrunk your future,
that the past is an ever expanding suitcase.”
… and further along in the poem she closes with …
“to your feet, to the bees still milking
flowering raspberries. You free a frog
watch it hop back to its life.”
I was riveted by the story of Paula Schneider in Crossing Point, as Paula (probably Myra’s mother-in-law) crosses with her children from Germany into Holland during World War II. This is included in the second half of Myra’s book, which comes to the business at hand: injustice as it affects women and children.
Interesting that this book came my way when I am standing by two friends whose physical and emotional frailty are much entwined with their relations with fathers and husbands or boyfriends. It’s not that things haven’t been improved since our parents’ days…at least for many of us it has. It’s not that there are no kind and enlightened men. Certainly there are. It’s not because women and society are without culpability, because they are not.
The complexity of the gender and social issues examined are clear in Myra’s long poem, Caroline Norton, about the nineteenth century writer and poet, social reformer and unwitting feminist. Caroline came to the latter two occupations, not so much by choice as necessity. As the poem folds out, we see that the brutal husband who separated Caroline from her children (with tragic results for them), was abetted and aided by the women in his life, influenced as they were by a social context in which women and children are property with no legal rights of their own. No doubt those women were numb to the implications, threatened by the hint of change, and anxious to bolster the sense of surperiority they got out of putting this woman down.
Myra stands firm in her poetic commitment to continue the fight started with Caroline Norton, since half the world is still under siege and the other half still begs improvements. We read about the child-bride (Woman) and the woman who is stoned (Her Story). One wonders what happens to the children – boys and girls – of such women. The short story here is that: What women want is justice.
For two years, I have enjoyed Myra Schneider’s work and appreciated her commitment to encouraging others to honor their inner artist, through her books on writing, her classes, and her support of Second Light Network (England), an association of women poets over forty. I suspect that her work doesn’t have the audience it deserves. I hope the day comes when that is remedied.
The closing poem in What Women Want:
by Myra Schneider, 2013, All rights reserved
posted here with Myra’s permission
after Picasso: Deux femmes courant sur la plage
Look how their large bodies leaping
from dresses fill the beach, how their breasts
swing happiness, how the mediterraneans
of sea and sky fondle their flesh. Nothing
could rein them in. The blown wildnesses
of their dark animal hair, their hands joined
and raised, shout triumph. All their senses
are roused as they hurtle towards tomorrow.
That arm laid across the horizon,
the racing legs, an unstoppable quartet, pull
me from my skin and I become one of them,
believe I’m agile enough to run a mile,
believe I’m young again, believe age
has been stamped out. No wonder, I worship
at the altar of energy, not the energy huge
with hate which revels in tearing apart,
in crushing to dust but the momentum
which carries blood to the brain, these women
across the plage, lovers as they couple,
and tugs at the future till it breaks into bloom.
What Women Want, publisher (Second Light Publications)
© 2013, essay, Jamie Dedes, All rights reserved
Cover art and poetry, Myra Schneider, All rights reserved