Wendy Klein finds that the poetic colours in Myra Schneider’s new collection have been skilfully mixed from choice ingredients

door_to_colourThe Door to Colour
Myra Schneider
Enitharmon Press
ISBN 978-1-907587-51-1
80 pp    £9.99


Myra Schneider opens this new collection, all her creative guns firing, with an ode to the lemon, an ekphrastic piece titled ‘Le Citron’ based on the image in Le Citron by Manet:

 its skin landscaped with yellows that sing
in counterpoint to mustard and leaf green.

Manet’s lemon is a humble representation, probably organic, while Schneider, in 14 lines, gets inside the fruit, its relationship to the painter, ending on the rhapsodic note which emerges from her own contemplation as a ‘globe’ illuminating a room / yearning for furniture, finishing with

 …I can hardly bear
to see it in such isolated splendour.

As ever, this poet does not shy away from the bigger questions. In the second poem, ‘It’s Possible’, she uses delightful alliteration, …kitchen tulips / whose pouts are now pink beaks, daring to suggest that peeling and eating a blood orange

while gazing at Himalayas of clouds, whiter than ice cream
at the sky behind them, its untouchable blue

all of which science attempts to explain, can make one feel that

 some kind of consciousness
must have emerged and created
the multiplicity of colour.

Even a die-hard old atheist like myself, cannot remain unmoved by the notion.

An 11-poem sequence ‘Kaleidoscope’ opens like a rainbow fan from the opening piece, ‘Discovery’:

 One shake and the vision vanished but another 
arose and with every shake another

The poet takes the reader on a journey through the contradictions of red from dooking apples to menstrual blood (the pads can be disposed of, But you can’t kill the smell of shame.), to a dress called excitement. Scenes from Chagall are both romantic and humorous: Oh look! There’s a donkey far below. Each poem, appears to illustrate a different life-cycle domain where the colour of bruises may merge with the coat of Joseph,

 …Its fabric is torn, its purples
and pinks are smeared with dirt, stained with blood.

This sequence seems worthy of a review in itself, but there is much else that demands notice. The poet’s sojourn on the island of Crete gives rise to ‘The Foothills of the White Mountains’, written following a visit to the Botanical Centre. The poem opens with a question: What garden could possibly bloom / on this desiccated earth? The question is answered precisely by what it’s not:

 …Not lupined borders,
not lemon-throated lilies, hollyhocks, roses

She leaves England behind and finds a flock of trees, gasps at ripe papayas, species of palm and guava she did not know existed, finds Eros:

 …Fig leaves finger us
a banana plant offers a yellow penis-flower

Red blossoms suggest the Song of Solomon. The aromatics are anticipated: Ophelia’s rue, the myrtle loved by Venus, and in closing Schneider muses:

…I already know this Eden
fecund as the imagination, is the original garden –
the garden we lose however often we come upon it,

an ending that may be too tidily executed for some, but I enjoyed the rub of philosophy, of inevitability.

Myra Schneider is also a consummate observer of passing humanity. In ‘Snack Bar’, after a painting by Edward Burra, akin to David Hockney (whose work she mentions in other ekphrastic poems) she scrutinises the figure of a woman with scarlet lips:

 She can’t even squeeze a drop of milky warmth
from the imitation pearls adorning her ears.

notes of the atmosphere: The listlessness is a grey mutter.

This gift for close observation is realised again in ‘Caffé Nero’ as Schneider, soaking up the South Bank on a Saturday afternoon, evokes Cleopatra:

 …by a doorway
on her mobile phone. With her lime trouser suit
and olive skin, she stands above the hosts
of Saturday people on the waterfront.

In the final sequence of this formidable collection, ‘The Minotaur’, Schneider re-writes mythology, re-creating the minotaur, in his own voice, as a sympathetic figure with a loving mother who tries to save him from the inevitable social mockery and exclusion reserved for the disfigured/disabled. Stumbling on the mating of a bull and cow, he is not recognised as one of them and is charged by the bull:

 but it struck me like a smack on the muzzle, the truth I’d not faced:
I was neither man nor beast, I was nothing but a creature out of place.

The tale is not new, the theme not original, but this version fleshes it out poignantly: the abuse meted out by his father, Minos, the relationship with his mother, Pasiphae, in which she seeks to reassure him, but inevitably sends him into exile to save himself, are re-told in depth. Eloquently written in long lyrical tercets, it is nuanced with detail that may be researched or invented, but that does not seem important. What does seem important is that it comes across as the icing on a very rich and elegant cake, mixed with skill from choice ingredients in a collection gathered together under the dizzying banner of colour. This is a combination that could cause indigestion if consumed in one impatient sitting. Not for the lazy reader of poetry, it will amply reward the committed reader prepared to do justice to a richness that begs to be savoured.

U.S.-born Wendy Klein has lived in England most of her adult life. Winner of the Havant, the Buxton, the Cannon Poets Sonnet or Not, and the Cinnamon Press Single Poem Prize in 2014/15, Wendy has two collections from Cinnamon Press: Cuba in the Blood (2009) and Anything in Turquoise (2013). She has agreed to work on a 3rd collection with Cinnamon Press, out in late 2016/early 2017.