Steven Schneider's Poems of Clarity & Vision
by Rustin Larson
Is 1st World Publishing becoming known as an imprint for high quality poetry? Let’s look at the recent track record.
In 2006, 1st World in partnership with The Iowa Source brought out W. E. Butts’s Sunday Evening at the Stardust Cafe, which was the winner of the Iowa Source Poetry Book Prize. Butts was at that time a significant American poet, but his stock has risen even further with his recent appointment as New Hampshire poet laureate. The Source and 1st World also released in 2006 Leaves by Night, Flowers by Day, an anthology featuring not only Walter Butts but a wealth of other well-published poets, including Elinor Benedict, Gladys Swan, Robin Lim, Diane Frank, and Michael Carrino. Now 1st World’s partnership with Blue Light Press of San Francisco continues the flow of very high quality poetry, as evidenced by the release of Steven Schneider’s Unexpected Guests.
The gift of Unexpected Guests is one of clear vision and a steady, eloquent voice. Whether he is “Driving Through A Painting by Monet” or spending a “Day on the Dead Sea,” Schneider is a most lucid guide.
Floating on our backs, laughing . . .
No spoonbills, no pelicans, not even a vulture,
Only the salt, the white grains,
And the sky overhead, a blue dish.
We are fragile, though buoyant on our backs,
Weaker than Samson or Jacob.
(from “Day on the Dead Sea”)
In spring I look out along the lakeside
at the blossoming cherry and apple trees,
out beyond them to my old friend, the water,
blue light of mountains in the distance.
I imagine driving through a painting by Monet,
sounds of the saxophone awash in water lilies.
(from “Driving Through a Painting by Monet”)
Daniel Tobin, author of The Narrows and Where the World Is Made, says of Steven Schneider’s verse, “Unexpected Guests is a collection of poems notable for the quiet intensity of its language as well as its sweeping engagement with place and history.” Thomas Centolella, author of Terra Firma and Lights and Mysteries, notes, “Wherever he wanders—be it Nebraska prairie, Texas-Mexico border, or Biblical times—he relates his desire to be rooted, truly at home, employing a voice that’s plain-spoken and calm, a welcoming voice that gets out of the way of its subjects, so as to ease our way into them.”
Steven Schneider’s poetry impresses me most with its clarity and accessibility. This is poetry written by someone who is very skilled in his craft, and it is poetry that fits the reader’s sensibilities like a comfortable pair of jeans:
You are out walking the loop, a 3 mile circuit
along elderberry, fir and wild blackberry—
water on all sides. Although you have walked this loop
many Sundays, nobody knows your name
or who you are.
And yet it is our comfort with this language that eases us to deeper perception:
It’s a question of beginning again,
of finding that place within
where you can give yourself to what you see,
to what you hear,
where you can say “hello”
and not mind if anyone is listening.
(from “Walking the Loop”)
Steven P. Schneider lives in the Rio Grande Valley of South Texas and is Professor of English and Director of New Programs and Special Projects for the College of Arts and Humanities at the University of Texas-Pan American. He received his M.F.A. in Creative Writing and Ph. D. in English from the University of Iowa. His poems and essays have been published in national and international literary journals including Beloit Poetry Journal, Prairie Schooner, Tikkun, Judaism, and The Literary Review.
For people who have been fans of Stephen Schneider’s poetry all along, Unexpected Guests is the major collection they have been waiting for. For others, this is a wonderful poet to get to know well. It doesn’t take long to make friends with these poems, and they’ll become friends you’ll want to visit again.
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