Sep 9 2023
Poetry review – THE WOMAN WHO COULDN’T FINISH THINGS: Wendy French believes that Sue MacIntyre has accomplished a great deal in her new collection of poetry
In this fine body of work the title belongs to both the first and the last poems. A clever idea to begin and end with not finishing things as the title suggests. The title accurately reflects the point of view of these poems,namely the woman who couldn’t finish things. However, there is nothing unfinished in the style or content of these poems. They are carefully crafted to reflect a life of creativity, love and fulfilment.
…to bring out a dark freckled cowrie shell, Offering it to me quietly Saying this is what they give As presents down there. [“Linked images, with hands.”]
And MacIntyre’s present to us is this book full of images and unlikely short reflections on her life: Here are her thoughts on “Cooking”
In my unhappiness I can only cook and it works well because I don’t want food I don’t want to taste each night this week such a good meal
So much said and understood by the reader in so few words. This is one of the poet’s strengths. She has an ability to capture a life force, a sentiment, without wasting space and using simple language. She can penetrate other people’s worlds without any preconception of who her work is reaching out to.
In many of these poems I felt as though I was observing a play; a play that opens itself to some of my own life experiences and reflections. I have a deja vu experience that I want to explore.
She looks out, her small whiteface framed as if from an upstairs window, hemmed in by everlasting flowers – … [ “Cimetiere”]
How many times have any of us looked up and seen a face looking out through an upstairs window and had the sense of being watched from a distance? In this, and in other poems, the reader may have the impression of MacIntyre not being in total control of a situation; but she is certainly in control of her writing and her taut form gives these poems a confidence of their own. I can’t think of another writer who is so honest about their inability to finish tasks and yet can turn this indecisiveness into a meaningful and subtle poem. And as some of us get older this inability to make decisions is something that we can all suffer from occasionally. With age comes the knowledge that nothing is straightforward, and these themes penetrate this book.
This moment…we’re trying to hold it still Did someone say the moon is moving away from the earth? We’re told there will be more turbulence. [“Maridiana alpaca”] “
Sue MacIntyre is my Stevie Smith. She speaks in plain language to the ordinary person but her poems are extraordinary. The content supports the form and endorses the subtlety of the language. The linguistic economy is superb. The poems ‘wave’ to the reader long after the book has been put down.
their blondness – some wasp-damaged or bruised some still a little pale. [“Apricots”]
This poem shows how MacIntyre cares for the fruit, regarding each one as precious. She talks as if the fruit could be compared to a person, because everything/everyone sis o valuable and unique.
In Camus’s essay, “Create Dangerously” he observes that the suffering of mankind is such a vast subject that it seems no one could touch it unless he was like Keats whose sensitivity, it is said, was such hat he could touch pain itself with his hands. I am not suggesting here that MacIntyre can be likened to Keats from a technical point of view; but she has a deep sensitivity in her writing, in her work and in all her observations. Here for instance she speaks of the sensuousness of trees:
…the summer woods and their darkness, trees that stretch on and on and on, those nameless thousands crowding closer to the housing since farming died away.
The beauty is there in front of us, enveloping us and the poem ends with a sese of desolation.
….you’d turned round but the face and hand you’d clung to had gone and it comes back again, A sharp sense of that desolation.
The placing of the ‘but’ in this poem is important to the integrity of the meaning of the whole.
And there’s wit in these poems too.
I asked you if the letters of the alphabet were coloured for you too. I told you A is red and E is orange/yellow, I is silvery grey and T is green for me. … one spelling makes her thin and pale, wearing the other she is sunny and plumper [“Elinor, Eleanor”]
It is the idea of wearing a name that is appealing, a name that we didn’t choose but were given. How do we wear it? How do you wear yours? But the poem doesn’t finish with this idea. It opens out to a young couple striding towards a shrine where ‘We colour in the story’ and then concludes with us ‘ ambling – our minds pottering – sunlight – stories / and yes – coming up for air.’
On the back cover Robert Seatter says that book contains: ‘Luminous poems that steal up on the reader softly and stealthily, leaving their gifts of revelation and consolation.’ And this is absolutely right. These poems invite the reader to ‘come up for air’.
There is an earthy feel to this book, with its poems about woods, earth, trees, bruised fruit and memory. The poems reflect on what it is to be alive. And the poem, “Piano” (dedicated to MacIntyre’s father) ends with the realisation ‘You’re a reflection too’.
As mentioned earlier, the book starts and finished with “the woman who couldn’t finish things” and from its opening on ‘a fine spring morning the week before Easter’ it maintains a very special and unique perspective.