Fiona Sinclair reviews 'Circling the Core' by Myra Scneider

Fiona Sinclair reviews Circling the Core by Myra Schneider, Enitharmon 2009,  ISBN 9781904634669, £9.95

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 is particularly effective in the poems ‘In the Forest’ where the woods develop a Hopper like menace and ‘Vision’ with its references to mastectomy and by extension, cancer.

The meditative poems frequently follow an elegant pattern that skilfully mimics the character’s thought processes. The narrator finds herself alone in a natural setting such as catching sight of a King fisher, or in a domestic situation like a  larder unearthing old cake tins,   this leads to detailed observation of the moment,the description of the gorgeous bird, memories evoked by the cake tins which in turn lead to metaphysical contemplation that is either resolved by the poem’s conclusion  ‘‘What is life if it isn’t a series of small makings to stack up in larders against death?’’ or in some cases is left unresolved ‘‘Often I pick up the word safe, ponder its precise meaning.’’

The poems are not over burdened with imagery which would arguably jar with the idea of contemplation, but Schneider does create some arresting images often restricting herself to one per poem that are all the more powerful because of their rarity. The most memorable for me came in ‘Heron’ where a courgette was described as being ‘‘solid as a baby’s head.’’ It is noticeable that Schneider does make effective use of personal symbolism throughout the collection. This includes references to the sea, rocky shorelines and the sky all of which represent eternity to her.

A collection containing only meditative verse might perhaps pall after a while so the poet judiciously adds variety by including poems about memory, vivid character portraits and dramatic events such as the confrontation between a group of youths and an elderly lady on a train. I found the poem ‘The Red Dress’ a refreshing take on the relationship between women and clothes, especially the effect some garments and indeed colours have upon the female psyche.

…reviewed by Fiona Sinclair

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