Persephone in Finsbury Park

in Finsbury Park is published from Second Light Publicationsnt Woman in the time of Henry VII and the famous producer of cookery books, Mrs Beeton, as well as women cyyy

Persephone in Finsbury Park is published from Second Light Publications. Its first section includes personal poems, poems which look at contemporary issues or celebrate life. The second section focuses on the lives of women, two from the past - Anne Askew, a brave Protestant Woman in the time of Henry VII and the famous producer of cookery books, Mrs Beeton, as well as women connected with my own life. The book ends with the title poem which is an updating of the Greek myth that's humorous, serious and dramatic. It follows Persi who is about 21 as she struggles to break away from her mother's influence and find herself.

Here are two short poems - one form the first section and one from the second section.


More like a deformed animal than part of a plant,
I imagine it snuffling in the dark, dreaming itself
a globe as it heaves against waterlogged clay and stones

to fill out its girth. Hard as mahogany, heavy as flint,
its thick skin is marked with blotches purple as bruise,
ringed with ridges. This one has an outgrowth

that's like a foetal limb. At first I brand the vegetable
inferior to the leeks I dug up in the garden one year,
each smooth as a pole and more whitely alive than snow

but the ungainly body speaks of persistent labour,
quiet confidence, gravitas, and I admire it for making
no pretence to be other than it is. I begin to wonder why

we're so careless of the earth which coddles seedlings,
coaxes them to reach for the light and harbours
their weighty fruit, why we're forever looking up at the sky,

probing Mars for signs of life, seeking out ever fainter galaxies
and, as the mystery of space-time grows, why we keep
trying to crack the secret which began the universe.

Better to consider the casserole we're having for supper,
how when I lift the glass-lidded pot out of the oven
slow cooking will have turned the pieces of swede

luminous orange and soft enough to slip down
the throat, warm the belly. Better to ask how long
it will be before the swede's an endangered species.


Somewhere inside me: snippets from her life,
that village a dozen miles from Vitebsk, the cows
she knew by heart, the grocery shop abandoned

for a cramped existence in the safety of Stepney:
families living elbow to elbow, her six-year old Judith
scalded to death tipping water from a boiling kettle.

These scraps and others are in a bundle much smaller
than the bundle of linens she heaved through years
of unpaved streets after her husband died

selling on the never-never. There's little Isaac
who couldn't keep still for a moment, never allowed
indoors on his own - such harm might he come to -

playing outside till her day's slog was over and in winter
at the mercy of frost which sank its teeth so deep
into his legs the bite was still raw ninety years later.

There's the tale of how she dug her needle wit
into the boy for fooling in his new secondary school,
being placed twenty-ninth, then of how proud she was

when he became, not the rabbi she'd dreamed of
in the tiny bedroom they shared for years,
but such a scholar he was paid to go to university.

Rebecca, grandmother I never knew, your son
always called you mother - I didn't learn your name
until seven years after he died - I'm proud of you.

The latest review of the book is by Justina Hart in ARTEMISpoetry 17 (November 2016) It begins: 'Youthful exuberance and zest for life leap from the pages of Myra Schneider's fourteenth collection. Apart from the deliberate give-away in the delightful birthday poem The Word - "Difficult to pretend I'm not getting old - / yesterday's visitor rubbed it in" - it would be impossible to guess the poet's real age. Schneider is very much "still in the swim" as she says of another woman in Breathing Space.'

Later she notes: 'The way the poems suddenly take wing is familiar. But they fly always to unexpected and wild places … A poem about the humble swede asks us to conceive of a day when even this ungainly vegetable is an endangered species.' She comments that the title poem 'is a rollicking read to be devoured by all those whose hearts sink when confronted with the phrase 'long poem' … Schneider inhabits the young woman's voice without a false note, and we are shunted around emotionally as she struggles to enter the adult world.'

Kay Syrad begins her review of the book in Frogmore Papers number 88 (Autumn 2016) 'This is Myra Schneider's fourteenth collection of poetry, full of exuberance, close and unflinching observation of self and others, and compassion, especially for the particular experience of women past and present.' This is its ending: In a recent interview with Dilys Wood for Artemis poetry 16, Schneider said that 'For me being alive means writing poetry and trying to take it further' and we are lucky that, for all these years, like the speaker in her poem, The Real Mrs Beeton: 'I shut myself away every morning in that small room/ of my own, the room which is me, to let imagination / run wild as grasses in an untended garden.'

The first review of the book was by Emma Lee on the London Grip: It begins: 'A new collection from Myra Schneider is usually a delight: a chance for a reviewer to relax and enjoy acutely-observed, crafted poems which create uncluttered images of their subjects, building up textures that ask the reader to look again. Persephone in Finsbury Park does not disappoint. The book is split into three parts, one of general observations, the second focussing on people who have been overlooked or whose reputation isn't what it seems and the third section being the sequence which gives the collection its title.' After looking at some poems in depth, it ends: ' In Persephone in Finsbury Park Myra Schneider demonstrates she continues to be on form and a delight to read.'

Here are some immediate responses to the book:

Mark Roger wrote:

'The shorter poems seemed very substantial to me, very vivid in their imagery, sensual and thoughtful at once. And I loved the long poem, there's so much in it, and it makes such good use of the myth. And it has such momentum. Very clever how much of the story you leave out, how concise it is in spite of being a long poem. I think the book is as good as any of your books, which is saying a lot. I've seen "Margaret" before, it's a wonderful poem. I have already used it in a class, and will do so again.'

Jane Duran wrote:

I've been so enjoying this book of portraits and meditations. I love the way you start quietly with a detail or moment and then sweep me up into a much larger emotional and sensuous landscape. These poems are so much about being a woman, a woman's experience, and the title runs so clearly as a theme throughout the poems, from the intense and moving The First of Spring, to the delightful The Swede, the crystalline Margaret (I love the lines: 'It takes seconds/ to step back decades and lift the muslin cover// from the wide-lipped jug' and 'a quiet that grew// from you') to the intricate narrative of your title poem. I specially love 3AM and His Gift from Brazil. Your generosity and honesty are present throughout.

Nadine Brummer wrote:

'I like the way you express concern for those who are lost, strangers, friends, family and admire the way you so often strikingly bring observation and imagination together to weave your texts. The title poem is an interesting, quirky, novella that pulls the reader in and sustains the pull by clever updating of the myth.'

Rosie Bailey wrote this about the Persephone narrative:

'As for Persephone, well, I 'got on' with her just fine. I much admired the adventurousness of the work, the control of the material, the consistency of the voice, and of course the range of delicate reference. I liked very much the pace of it, too - you get away with managing those long laconic lines with amazing lyricism. The uncensored demotic is never (as it so easily might be)... well,.. patronising (to the speaker, if you know what I mean).. And despite intricacy of the subject and the personalities, not a cliché in sight. Couldn't put it down.'

Carolyn O'Connell posted this on face book about the Persephone narrative:

'What's blown me away though is the title poem, it's an amazing short story told in poetry and I was enthralled.'



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