PoetryPoet Myra Schneider interviewed by Gil Dekel.

Myra Schneider: Hi, Gil, welcome… would you like some tea? [1]

Gil Dekel: That would be nice. [2]

[getting tea] [3]

Gil Dekel: Did you always live in London? [4]

Myra Schneider: I have been living here a long time now, since 1955, in this house. This room was my son’s bedroom, and it is now my poetry workshop room. [5]

Your wonderful book Multiplying the Moon was published by Enitharmon Press… it is a gift to be able to write like that… [6]

Thank you… I can tell you a lot about it. [7]

Can I ask you about the process of writing The Cave, which appears in this book? [8]

Yes… I was quite weak from chemotherapy; this is in the year 2000. I managed to do my teaching here at home, but I wasn’t strong enough to leave home to do anything. I should have been going to run a weekend course, and I did the preparation work, but somebody else stood in for me. I worked at what I call image exploration, which is a technique where you make a suggestion and people would fill in their own ideas, their own feelings, and their own images. [9]

So I worked out an image exploration, and came up with this idea of the cave. The image cave is very good because it is underground, inside, and you can find all sorts of things there. You can imagine you are inside that cave and can see things around you. Then you write what happens next. Before the weekend course happened, I had a poetry group here. We did the image exploration, and I got very involved in it. I kind of heard a sound, and it was of my father. He was making an accusation about me, a confrontation. I was very shocked because my father was dead. So, I wrote a poem about this, and as I developed it closely to the image exploration I realised that it wasn’t by chance that I had the image of a cave. Rather, I needed to go down there myself, and find out what was going on. There was this accusation, and me standing up against it, fighting back, and getting out again from this underground place, which I suppose the illness put me into. [10]

And the accusation is your father questioning your life? [11]

Yes, and it is quite unlikely for him to do, but this is what I heard in the image exploration. He said, ‘You are hardly a woman.’ I suppose that this is something that I felt after the breast cancer. I did feel that everybody else is perfect and I am peculiar. Of course, this is not true, but these things are irrational and I haven’t addressed it before … So, probably that was a way of looking at these feelings. [12]

I was quite shocked and shaken that my father came in, a kind of authority figure. But I stood up to him, it is very important that I said, ‘No, I am a woman!’ I actually said that I have become something deeper, because the experience of having cancer puts you in a different dimension. You see things in a different perspective. Life becomes very precious; you want to hold on to it. [13]

Why were you shocked to hear your father? [14]

I was surprised to see him in that context because I thought that I had finished writing about him. Well, I never seem to finish writing… and I had this … some sort of a vision of him; photographic. It was a sense of his voice. [15]

This is how you write? Out of sensing, or seeing, images? [16]

When I write a poem I develop a lot of notes, and I use a flow-writing technique. Flow-writing means writing what comes to your head without planning. Our education system teaches us to plan before we write, and put it down only after you sort out what it means. In flow-writing you let everything come in. It is difficult to let go of the consciousness, so you have to take a starting point, a sentence, a colour, a phrase. You have to let go and stop planning. You can’t ‘try to let go’ but rather you try to see what words are coming up. If you do try to let go, you will then be holding it, and that will be artificial. So, you try to see what words are coming instead of what words you want to direct. What is coming from underneath, from the unconscious, and flowing to the surface. Coming out of the cave to the sunlight. [17]

How do you deal with it once you sense a word or a metaphor? [18]

A metaphor will take you beyond logic, comparing one thing to another. There is more than one meaning to it. Logic can only cope with one layer of meaning at a time. A poem is suggesting all sorts of things besides its actual literal meaning. I personally think in images, and images come into my writing. [19]

With free writing words flow, but then you have to craft the piece of work, so you do have to apply logic. You do have to ask, ‘Where is this going? Which of these connections really works? What is missing?’ This is where technique, skill and craft have to be merged with inspiration. Inspiration comes as you work through; it is not something that collides and pours down at you. I do draft after draft after draft. I don’t stop drafting until I feel I have something there. It is a mix of imagination, flow-writing, associations, and organisation using logic. [20]

So what do you think Blake meant when he said something about doing nothing and letting the Holy Spirit work through him? [21]

Maybe so, still his poems are quite formal. I think his description is probably true as for the ideas and images coming to him. And then there is much work and crafting needed. [22]

Do you think writing can heal? [23]

I believe that any kind of writing, not just poetry but even just sitting and writing your feelings, is healing. It is a way of release. You let out what is worrying, instead of bottling it all up. It helps you sort out ideas. Helps you to see, crystallising thoughts and emotions into a shape that is outside you. And so you can get hold of it and do something about it. You can even discover what you are feeling that you didn’t notice before. For example, at one point I was extremely angry and didn’t recognise it. The anger started to surface in the poem The Shell. Climbing up the stairs and letting go of rage. In another poem, Release, I write about going to let go of my anger. Once this is written, outside your mind, you can understand it much better. You have partly separated yourself from it, and then you got more control over it. [24]

It is like a mirror to your deepest soul? [25]

Yes, it is a way of life. It is about being in touch with your spiritual self; words come from there. Poetry is how you feel the sound of words, the meanings of words, playing with words. I am a pantheist, believing that God is in everything. This was Wordsworth’s religion… [26]

21 June 2008. Publishing rights © Gil Dekel.
Interview held in London, UK, December 2006. Myra’s Website.