There were moonlit nights and many moonless nights
sober and drunken in one grain of sand
in billions of grains there were filthy hands
mud and fingernails between sunburned thighs
this is not my skin with nerves inside out
not my breast squeezed into faint whimpers
like dying swallows caught in a dry mouth
soon I’ll be a memory in last verse of songs
someone meant to write on a summer night
flesh to sand and sand to a story to tell
they’ll mention tattoos* and how I was a slave
look look how many stars in one grain of sand
in a billion grains in a billion tears
screams tangled like strings through my broken ribs
you did not know me then
before much before they tore off my clothes
and the desert night shivered with their rage
you did not see how my hair flowed like silk
on soft pillows where teenage dreams were weaved
you did not know me dressed with flowers in my hair
and my fathers arm around my adolescent frame
you did not see the stars from our wide windows
above the vineyard and my feet bare on the fertile soil
in our apricot tree’s cool summer shade
I’m in the evening news – in a pile of bones
look at the skull at the very left
see the sparrow lodged between those clenched jaws
I’m in the evening news a hundred years late
in the grains of sand shifting restless with shame
in the billion stars in your sky tonight
in my mother’s voice singing kenatzir pallas*
in the moonlit nights and the moonless nights
on a dagger’s blade in the Deir ez-Zor sand
– Silva Merjanian
24 April 2016 is the 101th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide, when thousands of women were dragged in the desert, raped and tortured before killed.
the reference to tattoos … they used to tattoo the women according to who owned them.
Kenatzir pallas is a lullaby very popular with Armenians and means “go to sleep my child”
“Silva’s poetry rewards the reader with the gift of exquisite lacework, adorned with choice words and skillfully wrought poetic imagery, which allow you to get a glimpse of both the intoxicating sensuality of survival and the scalpel scars on the tender skin of life. Many-layered, it excels alike in depicting the sphere of personal experience and of traumatic social issues.” – Dr. Aprilia Zank. Lecturer for Creative Writing and Translation Theory Ludwig Maximilian University, Munich, Germany in a review of Silva’s collection Rumor. Three poems rom this collection are Pushcart nominees. The net profits including the publisher’s go to The Armenian-Syrian Relief Fund. About $5,000 dollars have been raised to date.
Natasha’s debut poetry collection was Nothing Left to Loose (Winter Goose Publishing, 2012) It was a Pushcart Prize nominee. A year later – almost to the day – Pulse(Winter Goose Publishing, 2013) was launched,the second of her three collections. Natasha’s third collection is Birthing Inadequacy (Lulu, 2014).
NothingLeft to Loseis a collection of self-contained poems that tell the author’s personal story of everyday difficulties, disillusionment, and disappointment to which we can all relate. Ultimately it is about trial and transformation, which is the essential theme of both books.
Trapped between what was, what
is …no movement; fear
holds me motionless.
All directions equal no choice, as
fear gives way to chaos …
What needs to be done, I
don’t want to do, my thoughts
constant, my nightmares
real, feeling force, breaking
pressure, resisting to the point
Static, Natasha Head in Nothing Left to Lose
Pulse is a short epic, a narrative stream of poems that together form a modern-day odyssey of a family caught in a web of prostitution and abandonment, alcohol and drugs, delusion and deceit. When the worst happens to the young woman who is central to the story she is wrapped in silence … at first unchosen and then embraced … In this silence appears the potential for her to reinvent herself. She is being tested. Will she answer the call to transformation?
Pulse is a dramatic fiction, but I didn’t find it melodramatic or manipulative, which it could have been in hands less skilled than Natasha’s. The poems here are lucid and direct. The language is plain and mostly understated, interesting in its relative coolness juxtaposed against the girl’s grit as it unfolds.
There is nothing worse
than waiting in the dark,
Mother trying her best
in the furthest corner
of a forgotten closet
where she was safe to shine the flashlight
on ancient magazines
and little golden books
where she would realize
there was no such thing as fairy tales,
and princes never stayed.”
“Painting is silent poetry, and poetry is painting with the gift of speech.”
~Simonides of Ceos (556-468 BCE), Greek lyric poet
I chose that quote for two reasons. First, Myra Schneider‘s way with poetry lends truth to Simonides’ observation that “poetry is painting with the gift of speech.” Second, Simonides was known in his day for presenting the human condition in terms that were basic yet moving. I’ve never been able to find enough of Simonides’ work to confirm that for myself. I suspect that not much of his work survives for anyone to really know. However, I have read a great deal of Myra’s work. I can say with confidence that her canvas is lively and colorful, her poetic sensibility accessible and affective.
There is nothing that does not seem to lend itself to poetry in Myra’s mind. Nature. Art. Music. Beauty. Humanity. Events great and small. Even those things that some would see as too pedestrian to inspire are ink in Myra’s pen, inspiration for meditations on larger concerns. For example, from Circling the Core(Enitharmon Press), the poem Milk Bottleshared with readers in the May 2015 issue of The BeZine. These are subjects to be explored and savored in Myra’s poetry … and never more so than in her newest collection.
The Door to Colour (Enitharmon Press) came out last November. (I’m sorry to present this review so late. Life sometimes gets in the way of intention, but the operative word is “life.”) Short story: I enjoyed it. I recommend it. It is worth – in fact it calls for – frequent and careful reading. And, if you find yourself recuperating from some devastating event, you will surely find balm in the artistry of this collection and its shared experience of life with all its colors and shadows.
The Door to Colour starts with a simple piece, Le Citron, after Monet’s painting of the same name and includes several poems inspired by works of art or music.
There’s the human element, of course, and one of my faves, His Room, which everyone who has ever raised a child will appreciate. “On the door: posters, cuttings/and a warning: Parents Keep Out,/I knock, Am admitted . . .’I’ve got to find out if life/has any meaning,’ he tells me/He is fifteen, I am forty-five …/and the meanings I’d thought I’d found/have vanished. But behind him/I see myself at fifteen overwhelmed …”
And then there’s the poem Silence, which asks “what colour is noise?” It’s one to post above your computer. In Panic you’ll likely recognize yourself.
The narrative poem, Minotaur ends the collection. It is an alternate view of the Greek myth of Theseus and the Minotaur and it will stay with you long after reading. This poem moves, moves, moves.
I thoroughly enjoyed The Throw, for its details. The Throw is “kind to my uncomfortable body,” It is a poem to which you’ll relate if you are of an age when discomfort is your constant companion.
The poem, Cloud, made me think of Rilke for its concern, not its style. “I can’t believe/the divine exists in a fixed place overhead-/isn’t god the energy driving the universe/the dimensions of its mathematics visible/in patterns on this planet …” And let me whet your appetite with this tidbit from Garden: ” . . . Go/into the garden where dandelions pit themselves/against primroses …”
The door to color turns out to be the door to transformation and transcendence and no doubt the reading is as deeply felt as the writing was …Each poem asks to be devoured . . .
… and so to close this piece – with Myra’s permission – the gift of two poems for you to read fromThe Door to Colour … Enjoy!
after Chagall: Adam et Eve chassés du Paradis
There is no music now in paradise.
The garden’s ripped by cries of consternation,
a blinding white circle of face belongs
to a figure whose body is flower-blur
and stems twinned with leaves, a figure
inseparable from this place, its din.
There is no music now in paradise.
Tranquillity is a shrivelled fruit, trees
wrenched from roots are hurtled to the sky,
birds plummet to ocean, stampeding hooves
smash grasses. The tempter’s vanished,
panic-bitten humans are in flight.
There is no music now in paradise.
The word sin hisses in ears, guilt
lays its eggs, hearts work like clappers,
selves are in tatters. Though daisies
will rise again, moments gleam with sound
there is no music now in paradise.
– Myra Schneider
ON THE TRAIN
Sometimes when the computer’s in sulk,
when you’ve failed to appease your partner,
mother, child or cat, when you’ve hurried
down roads hoping to escape the conundrum
of yourself or limped from the dentist’s to daylight
with all the stuffing knocked from body and mind
even though pain is no longer boring into your teeth,
all you can do is climb chilling flights of steps,
clamber on board and thank god or your lucky stars
that no one’s bellowing the obvious into a mobile.
All you can do is gaze at the backsides of houses,
their clumsy sheds and drooping lines of washing,
at hoardings, factories, and outbursts of October leaves,
at glints from sudden streams, interludes of grass.
All you can do is accept the sumptuous dark of chocolate
melting in your mouth, gaze at the magenta lipstick
filling a double-spread in the magazine you picked up
at Whistlestop, imagine buying it though you never
colour your face, then feel inferior as you read
about the woman who rules the National Trust.
All you can do is smack shut the complacent pages
and look at the everyday girl who’s sitting opposite.
Her pinkish high-heeled shoes are fragile as slippers,
her face is creased with fatigue. You doubt she could rule
a pocket-sized kitchen or a stack of pots in a shed
but you can’t take your eyes off her handbag,
its amber clip, the silvergold lustre of its fabric,
the zips to its many enticing compartments.
– Myra Schneider
” . . . reading, writing and sharing poems is healing and if one is to be fully involved in writing it is crucial to read poetry and read poems closely.” Myra Schneider in an interview with me, February 2011.
NOTE: Originally published here about two years ago, this post is worthy of a wider audience and more than one read; and so, with some additions, I post it again for the benefit new readers and old. Among other things, the evolution of Mary’s poetic grace in her maturity is certain inspiration for those who come to their art late in life as she did. Enjoy …
Mary MacRae “wrote and published poetry for only the last ten years of her life, after ill-health forced her to take early retirement from teaching. She taught for 15 years at the James Allen Girls School (JAGS), Dulwich, London. Her commitment to writing led to her deep involvement with the first years of the Poetry School under Mimi Khalvati, studying with Mimi and Myra Schneider, whose advanced poetry workshop she attended for 8 years. In these groups her exceptional talent was quickly recognised, leading to publication in many magazines and anthologies.” MORE (Second Light Live)
A breathing space:
the house expands around me,
· unfolds elastic lungs
drowsing me back ·
to other times and rooms
where I’ve sat alone
writing, as I do now,
when syncope – ·
one two three one two –
breaks in; ·
the half-glazed door with colour, ·
enamelled the elder tree
whose ebony drops ·
hang in rich clusters
on shining scarlet stalks ·
while with one swift stab
the fresh-as-paint ·
starlings get to the heart
of the matter
of matter ·
in a gulp of flesh
and clotted juice that leaves me ·
gasping for words transparent
as glass, as air.
My profound gratitude to poet Myra Schneider for the introduction to a new-to-me poet, Mary MacRae, and to poet Dilys Wood of The Second Light Network (England) for granting this interview. Jamie Dedes
JAMIE: Clearly, and as has been stated by others, Mary was profoundly inspired by art, nature (particularly flowers and gardens), and love. What can you tell us about her life and interests that would account for that?
DILYS: Mary writes tender and accurate poems about wild nature, creatures and landscape, drawing on her stays in a cottage on an untamed part of the coast in Kent, England and visits to her daughter living in remote West Wales. In her London home, it’s easy to guess from her poems about garden birds and flowers how much time she spent at the window. She almost always sees nature in flux, changing moment by moment, unpredictable, mysterious, a spiritual inspiration. One of her great strengths as a poet is catching movement.
Many of Mary’s poems focus on love between close family members. This may relate to a difficult relationship with her own father, which she sought to understand, and the relationships which compensated (with mother, sister, husband Lachlan, daughter and grandchild). A back problem prevented her from holding her baby daughter and she often refers in her poems to young children. She clearly has a yearning towards them.
JAMIE: She wrote poetry apparently only at the end of her life and for ten years. What were her creative outlets before that? How did she come to poetry?
DILYS: Mary was a dedicated teacher of English Literature and language in a leading girls’ secondary school. She was also deeply interested in music and painting (these are strongly reflected in her poetry). Though she had written as a young woman she followed the pattern of many women creative artists in becoming absorbed into her home life and her paid work, only turning to writing when her illness released her from the daily grind of intensive teaching. The remarkable, rapid development of her poetry shows how strong her latent powers really were.
JAMIE: Was writing poetry a part of her healing process when she was diagnosed with cancer? If so, how did it help her?
DILYS: I’m confident that Mary’s diagnosis with cancer enabled her to change her life-style and from then on concentrate on her poetry, urged by the sense that she might be short of time. There is no evidence that Mary wrote therapeutically to come to terms with her cancer. In fact she only ever addressed her illness in relation to the possible unkindness of fate in cutting her off from beloved people and life itself. The poems written in the last 2-3 years of her life give the impression that her dedication to writing, with the spiritual experiences which accompanied it, enabled her to bear terrible distress. She records this distress, using imaginative and metaphorical approaches to focus it, and these poems make heart-wrenching reading.
JAMIE: Can you tell us about her process? When did she write? Where? For how long?
DILYS: I have the impression that Mary’s life revolved around three things, people she loved, gathering experiences that would feed her poetry (travel, listening to music, visiting galleries) and very hard work in direct furtherance of her writing (extensive reading, attending workshops with other inspirational poets, writing, revising and submitting her poems to criticism from critics she respected). She used notebooks to make a full, accurate record of those experiences – landscapes, human encounters, thoughts – that would feed her work. There is an extract from one such entry in the section about keeping a journal in the resource book Writing Your Self, Transforming Personal Material by Myra Schneider and John Killick. This book also includes a contribution in the chapter on spirituality which reveals much about Mary’s attitudes to life, nature and also her writing process.
JAMIE: Do you have any advice from her for other poets and aspiring poets?
DILYS: Mary was a dedicated writer, entirely sincere in her commitment to poetry as opposed to ‘career’ as a poet. She was always ready to enjoy and praise the widest range of subject-matter, approaches and styles from other poets, providing she thought they were ‘busting a gut’ to get their poems right, and not indulging in the trendy or superficial, which she despised (whether from well-knowns or unknowns). She put much emphasis on wide-reading of both past and contemporary poets and she herself had absorbed a huge amount of other poets’ work, always quoting fully and accurately. She liked using another’s work as a starting pont for her own (the Glose) and particularly admired the work in strict form (including Sonnet, Villanelle and Ghazal), which began to be more acceptable from the mid-1990s (eg from such poets as Marilyn Hacker and Mimi Khalvati).
JAMIE: Are any other collections of her poetry planned? If so, when might we look forward to them?
DILYS: When putting together ‘Inside the Brightness of Red’, Myra Schneider and I went through the whole of Mary’s unpublished work and selected all those poems we felt were both complete and would have satisfied her high standards. What remains unpublished would be mainly fragments and early versions of poems she did more work on. There will not, as far as we know, be a further book, but Mary did achieve her aim of being a significant lyric poet, whose work is very attractive, polished and, above all (as she would have wished) deeply moving and consolatory.
* The Second Light Network aims to promote women’s poetry and to help women poets, especially but not only older women poets develop their work. It runs weekends of workshops and readings in London usually twice a year, a residential extended workshop with readings and discussions at least once every 18 months and occasional other events. It is nationwide and includes and some members who live outside Britain altogether. Importantly Dilys is the main editor of ARTEMIS poetry a major poetry magazine for women produced by Second Light twice a year for all women poets. It includes a lot of reviews and some articles as well as poetry. Second L. members receive it free as part of their subscription. An e-newsletter is sent out every few weeks. A few anthologies of poetry have been published by the network but now this magazine has been developed books are only produced in special circumstances – such as Mary’s collections.