Circling the Core

Here is the first and last paragraph of an in depth review of Circling The Core recently written on his blog by Christopher James.

Myra Schneider's luminous collection of poems: 'Circling the Core' (Enitharmon)explores remote places - of the mind, the memory and the planet. From Scottish Islands, to powerful recollections (reading the headline in Rome: 'Kennedy Assassinata') to the self-questioning: 'Why did I wake this morning remembering a day decades ago?' this books travels long distances to find simple answers. Paradoxically, these remote places are often signposts to the core - the undiscovered self. The experiences have made her what she is, and yet her innermost being remains elusive and undefined…

For those looking for value in a poetry collection, Circling the Core offers plenty of it. Not only does it benefit from several 'hit singles' - a fistful of first prizes, many poems are multi-faceted, multi-layered things that tackle subjects many different ways; scenes are shot from several angles. Undeniably it is a dark collection, but it is tempered with humour and there are few poems that do not hint at redemption - whether in art, in food, in love, in nature or the simple promise of tomorrow. All of these poems are exercises in circling the core, where she concludes: 'The further in you go/the nearer you come to the mystery.'

To read the whole review go to: (see entry on 16 Feb)

Here are three excerpts from a recent review of the book by John Mackay which has recently appeared in Dream Catcher. Below it are extracts from a few of the many other reviews. The ones included here are by Martyn Crucefix, Penelope Shuttle, John Killick and Fiona Sinclair.

Her exploration of the idea of core in a bid to reveal the true nature of ‘my self’ and the world around her, is a recurring theme in this volume, and the final poem – in which ‘something is waiting to be pulled out,//threaded with breath, wrapped/in light’ – is inspired by a Mae Holsgrove painting that appears on the cover of the book. This spontaneous readiness to draw from what is around her and hold it up to scrutiny is typical of a poet who raises important questions, but rarely falls back on easy answers…

In a collection of 47 poems, Schneider explores childhood memories and adult experience in a bid to pull out her own meaning from what has gone before. She is alert to the pull of memory, and the journey of her poems often takes unexpected turns: a fox ‘suddenly...leaps from a pocket of memory’ and symbolises the awakening of a primeval self; a woman in a tube carriage ‘becomes a fish I saw/in the aquarium in Orkney, its round stare,/downturned mouth’. Inventive connections are the hallmark of a poet who has long been sharing her thoughts about the creative process (autumn 2009 saw the publication with co-author John Killick of Writing Your Self, a resource book of personal literature)…

The emotional core of the volume itself is located in two key poems: first, in ‘Journey’, where the notion of an unknowable essence is relocated to an urban environment, and ‘the rows of steel kisses/sealing the entrances to Underground stations’. In ‘Nothing’, the terrifying ‘void’ at the heart of the poem echoes Larkin’s nightmarish vision of ‘the sure extinction that we travel to’, and then returns us by implication to Thomas’ ‘The Glory’, and his question, ‘How dreary-swift, with naught to travel to,/Is Time?’ The questions that Schneider poses are no less potent, and explored in a way that her readers have become accustomed to – with a depth and intensity that make ‘Circling the Core’ her most richly textured volume to date.

The book opens with a marvellous response to a Barbara Hepworth sculpture which, after tracing the curves and lines of the material reality, worms its way to a centre, a still point, "jewel, kernel, womb, unshielded self, / a promise of continuance. / We lay hands on profound silence."

In Schneider’s work the kernel usually is that "unshielded self", the authenticity of lived experience rather than the accumulations that can obscure and denature it....

Those who have read her poetry in the past will recognise features of locality such as Pymmes Brook, the Piccadilly line viaduct to Arnos Grove, Arnos Park itself in north London and Schneider’s south-facing garden overlooking it. She has worked this landscape into almost mythic significance, its details able to reflect and evoke the inner experiences with which she is really concerned as in ‘Seeing the Kingfisher’, the ‘Drought’ sequence and ‘Skywards’. A little more exotically, ‘The Oyster Shell’ explores again this poet’s characteristic movement inward, a movement for which "prayer" offers no help but which, pursued with the kind of vigorous honesty that fills this book, can reach an almost Blakean intensity.

Here is the opening of a review by Fiona Sinclair which was posted on Ink Sweat and Tears (link) in July 2010:

Many of the poems in Myra Schneider’s collection Circling the Core are meditations. Her great achievement here is to allow her female personas to find amongst their domestic world of cooking, kitchens and gardens the inspiration for meaningful deliberation. Although such poems focus on personal contemplation Schneider employs her considerable technical skill to draw the reader into these reveries. The ‘I’ may well be isolated in a pantry or before a mirror in her bedroom but the poet’s use of a conversational style packed with detail creates an intimacy between persona and reader.

At the heart of these reflections lies a metaphysical desire for the speaker to capture eternity in the face of a fragile and unpredictable world. In many poems Schneider introduces hints of danger often in traditionally safe places such as home or a natural setting. This has a powerful effect on the reader suggesting that no where is quite as safe as it seems.

This book opens with a sequence inspired by one of Barbara Hepworth’s sculptures and explores the idea of core from different angles. This theme recurs throughout as Myra Schneider tries to capture the sense of what a bird is, searches out what lies at the heart of memories, fraught contemporary situations, ancient places and dream visions. The same need to investigate underlies poems about women’s experience. These include a narrative, Hotel, and a monologue, Eurydice’s Version which re-interpets the Orpheus myth. The painting on the cover - see below - was done by Mae Holsgrove at a drop in centre in Dumbarton organized by Alzheimer Scotland. This painting inspired a poem, This Rose, which ends the book and is very directly connected with its title. If you would like to order Circling The Core please e-mail Myra

Here are extracts from a review by Penelope Shuttle which was in ARTEMISpoetry Issue One, November 2008

… Myra Schneider searches deeply and without compromise for the fullest expression of life's possibilities. She enters the daunting yet essential regions where we face ordeals and seek understanding in and of the toughtest places in the world, both private and public.

The associative magics and essential realities to be found in Circling The Core attest to this writer's fidelity to the 'unpredicatble power of human imagination,' the imagination which orders the world into being, knowledge and value.

But that beautiful telling line from Edward Thomas, "I cannot bit the day to the core," stands at the threshold of this book reminding us that no matter how deeply we venture into the heart of things, much willl evade us. And it is the following-through of this paradox which lies at the heart of this ambitious and realized collection

… Here is the whole of John Killick's review of the book which was in Acumen 63 (January 2009):

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. And in this, her ninth full-length collection, the amalgam is headier than ever before.

Take Paula's Bowl for instance, one of a series of poems inspired by household objects. The ostensible subject is a large handmade item, which is described with Schneider's usual flair for indicating colour and texture: terracotta children in bell skirts are dancing / round a maypole. Blue florets speckle the long white dress / of a figure sitting on the ground, candleholders flower / on her head, hands, outstretched feet. A finger-thin dog / sniffs at a mottled triangular plate. But the real subject of the poem is Paula, Schneider's mother-in-law, the bowl's maker, and her life is recounted --- one of promise unrealised, because of the rise of Nazism in Vienna, her flight to London, and lack of artistic success in the new environment. This is summed up in the lines which end the poem: every time I take bread from her bowl I remember / what was given, what was snatched out of her reach. This poem is typical of Schneider's work in its concentration on evoking scenes and objects, in its storytelling, and in its warm humanity. Not the least of its virtues is its accessibility to the ordinary reader.

There are poems, however, where the poet reaches out for a meaning less rooted in the commonplace. Naming It is one of these. Nothing at the outset here is comfortable or secure. We could be in a dream/nightmare set in a city/landscape, but even that is too specific. Everything is broken, seems to have been destroyed in some cataclysm. The emotional atmosphere is summed up in the words The panic is all in the rubble. Then suddenly the poet focuses on the microcosm: a pool of taintless blue which is so small / I could hold out my hands and cup it.' It becomes terribly important to name this object. This is a primitive urge, as a stay against despair and dissolution. The culmination of the poem is this last stanza: I stop at harebell trembling on its wiry thread, / harebell that bends and keeps its head. / Babbling its name, I surface in another reality. This uncomfortable vision ends in at least a temporary reprieve.

There is variety here, and amongst the book's many delights are the title sequence inspired by Hepworth sculptures, a lively narrative set in a country hotel, and an idiosyncratic re-telling of the Orpheus myth in the voice of Eurydice. Circling the Core is Schneider' is most coherent and consistently rewarding collection.


© Jemimah Kuhfeld -


Once it was crossing the unmade road to sing
to wet mouths that chewed, stare at the sway
of udders soft as babies' heads, sniff milkiness,
glimpse emerald wings on cracked dung;

was nibbling the seeds in ripe heads of rye,
picking clovers - the pink and mealy white,
was thistles prickling legs and lying among feather-
head grasses that tickled as they brushed the sky;

was the night the carthorses raced round
driven by an electric storm's purple slashes,
their madness spilling into my excitement,
drops of light next morning glistening the ground;

was climbing the Downs, letting out the fears
penned in my head and walking a stubble field
to a blackened mill that stood defiant as it whirled
cloud and sun, roared its energy into my ears.

Now, field is the sweep below the spinney
in the park. Its glorious grasses stand unpawed
by city, smell of hay and are rarely mowed.
Here, carwhirr is muffled, collies plunge

into jungles of pungent stalks, tortoiseshells
flitter over ragwort. Ragged lines of geese
flap darkly across the setting sun's fleece
and utter warnings that day is paling out.

Here is fade, fall and rot till willows beginning
to green signal the white surprise of spring:
blossom on blackthorn knobbles, scatters of long-
winged anemones. And where dandelions hold up

their gorgeous yellow crowns, stinging nettles
herd and cunning spiders hang their threads,
where beetles scarper, slithery worms bed,
who knows what could sprout, run wild?


for Erwin and in memory of Paula Schneider, my mother-in-law

The higgle of packets, purple-lidded canisters of pasta,
pumpkin seeds, oatcakes and the tiger-faced biscuit tin
on our larder's lowest shelf are queened by the large bowl

Paula made. With its not quite symmetric sides, a patterning
of leafiness on earthbrown and bright yellow trunks it's cousin
to bowls in Matisse paintings, carries the kiss of Picasso

and our daily bread. If Paula had seen the muddle
around it - she who brought imagination and practicality
to every shelf, wall and cranny of her house in Stamford Hill -

she'd have bubbled with ideas for transforming the larder
and our home, built the extension we'd half-envisaged
but shied away from. What she couldn't mould was her own life.

The bowl goes deep but not deep enough to hold everything
she lost: her art school place under Kokoshka - in 1919
life in Vienna was as insecure as skating on thin ice;

the portfolio of paintings she once showed to her children -
orange women with arms flung out, meadows glorious
with flowers and grasses; her home; her parents and sister

when she fled from Hitler to England.The spacious bowl,
its mazurka leaves, insect-dot blossom, tell the joy she felt
as a potter but as I gaze at the cool of the varnished interior

it remains silent as sealed lips, doesn't whisper a word
of her sharp disappointment that little of her work sold.
In our house terracotta children in bell skirts are dancing

round a maypole. Blue florets speckle the long white dress
of a figure sitting on the ground, candleholders flower
on her head, hands, outstretched feet . A finger-thin dog

sniffs at a mottled triangular plate. Here, she's still alive
but every time I take bread from her bowl I remember
what was given, what was snatched out of her reach.

Part Five of the sequence Core

Shearing hair, peeling skin, probing brain chambers
won't reveal my self. And it can't be caught
in the brightshine of a mirror angled
on my heart, trapped by fingers taking the pulse.

Is it a consciousness of warmth - the tie
with the few I'm close to, my love of that softly
gold fruit, generosity, a need for
uncooped sea, colour, or being alone?

Is it fear, pain in the body, a sense
of pain in the world we never stop wounding:
tree canopies, bitterns, lemurs, people -
or words and the silent webs they're hung in?

Today I see it as the chiff-chaff's nest
John Clare found, built like an oven, inside
soft as seats of down, a place where threads from
other lives are part of a new creation.

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