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Seige and Symphony by Myra Schneider (Second Light Publications)

Seige and Symphony by Myra Schneider (Second Light Publications)

     In her latest collection, Myra Schneider uses poetical language to investigate our difficult times. Her lines develop concerns and thoughts in expanded imageries that search for new paths. Her detailed observations give a clear and multi-layered vision of the arguments she explores. Nature is often at the fore and helps us to understand our situation and our role on the planet and what it means to be human. Environmental concerns and the everyday struggle to survive in this troubled period are therefore paramount; Schneider’s response is complex and expertly nuanced but eventually positive. We will survive despite conflicts, depression, oppressions, failures and fragilities and the damage we are inflicting on the planet. We will survive even though the situation may look hopeless. In the final lines of some of her poems the message about having faith in the renewal of humanity is constant and undeniable, allowing the reader to rethink and ponder on major issue with fresh eyes:

the light still reaching us from the early universe,

darkness splitting apart to let morning be born,

rain filling puddle and sea, the will to survive stored

in ovaries, love, minds mastering the beauty 

of mathematics, this poignant arch which rises

in the silence beyond the leaning walls of the nave.   (‘Cropthorne Church’)

in spite of hungers, uprootings, in spite of losses 

too deep to name, the will to live persists.     (‘Thrust’)

     Her words are generous and frank, ‘not fabrications easy as eiderdowns // that prettify lies’; they are passionate, ‘tough words’ that dissect and amplify meanings, unleashing the potential of the imagination. They defy darkness and celebrate colours, especially the colour green: 

[…] It’s a green spawned 

by the damp bedded in rotting logs and deep

leaf mush, a green that’s been so mothered

by light it banishes lighlessness, a green

more potent than the science which explains it,

a green which fills my mind, feeds my arteries,

a green that urges: never give up.         (‘Cushion Moss’)

     Some of the poems in the collection are ekphrases that evoke paintings by artists such as Vincent Van Gogh, Stanley Spencer, J.M.W. Turner, Henri Rousseau and Henry Moore and prints by the Japanese artist Katsushika Hokusai. The ekphrastic poems catch the essence of the artists’ message and go beyond it, playing freely with the pictures in loose, sensuous descriptions; they penetrate the inner meaning of the artwork, connecting with the poet’s experience in an exchange that creates memorable lines, such as those about the vitality of Hokusai’s ‘The Horse-Washing Waterfall’ in which ‘movement is everything.’ 

     The fourth section, ‘Siege and Symphony’, is dedicated to Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 7 in C Major, also called ‘Leningrad’ as it was performed for the first time in Leningrad in March 1942 when the city was under siege by the Nazi army. The symphony became a symbol of resistance to oppression and totalitarianism. Half a million people died in the siege, which lasted more than two years. The symphony is considered to be a response to this invasion, though part of it was probably conceived before Hitler invaded the Soviet Union. The famous ‘invasion theme’ and later dramatic movements express the sufferings caused by tyranny and the resilient opposition to it. 

     Schneider’s long poem is formed of fifteen parts that retrace the story of the composition and of the performance, drawing inspiration from primary sources that add unexpected, interesting details to the narrative. The destruction of the war dramatically mingles with the quotidian the different characters experience. The poem also links to more recent conflicts, such as the Syrian war, encompassing ‘meanings / which travel far beyond Hitler’s war.’ Despair and chaos seem to pervade the music and the city, where ‘Bodies lie hard as rocks in the snow’ and ‘Death crouches in corners and doorways’. These conditions are reflected in the weakness of the conductor and the musicians, who are starving during the rehearsals and the final performance. The ending is moving and glorious: ‘utter silence, then a storm of clapping’ spread in the audience and beyond, reaching the German troops as well. Marigolds and cornflowers are offered at the end in a triumph of colours that envisages a more hopeful future. The poem therefore appropriately ends this multifaceted collection that addresses different and complex arguments; it encompasses personal experiences and global issues and suggests possible positive solutions in which humanity is eventually rescued from total destruction. The vision is compelling, passionate and compassionate. 

Carla Scarano D’Antonio 19th November 2022

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