Green City, Sue MacIntyre
Stonewood Press, 2016 £4.99
Delight in the detail
‘What was our city / but wonderful detail?’ Mark Doty’s lines from ‘Chanteuse’ (My Alexandria, 1993) lead into this sequence in which every poem expands the idea of the ‘wonderful’ and shares a delight in the small details that make up life in a city. It’s any city, but for the geographically-needy there are enough references to place this in central London, and a north London suburb with its sparrows, pigeons and foxes. People, too: the young neighbour, early morning ‘with his mug of something and his first cigarette’, the ‘worshippers ... planting night-lights // in their wayside shrine to Amy Winehouse’, young travellers who pass like ‘quick ghosts’.
No titles (so the pamphlet flows uninterrupted) and the unrhymed couplets and triplets hold their urban images gently. From the opening—‘A robin lets fall a shining ribbon / of song in the dark’—to the end—‘The swept clean twilight sky’—we are in the world of ‘our smallness’. It’s that acknowledgement of side streets and ‘a corner near the dustbins’ that appeals to me, the examination of what we too-easily take for granted. Haiku can do this, of course, but sometimes their extra dimension of time/season distracts the reader from the immediacy of what’s at our feet—the ‘dustbin’ aspect of reality. There aren’t enough poems about dustbins—or train tickets, or basements, or ‘dragging sounds of luggage / on wheels’—all of which make an appearance here. This stuff of everyday can be wonderful when looked at in its own right, as MacIntyre shows.
Vegetation, trees: these are as much a part of the city as its brickwork. There is the ‘mimosa we once planted without much hope’ whose yellow glow changes the light, a tree trunk ‘with its flaked biscuit patterning’, the ‘patterned yellow’ of fallen leaves in HIghgate Woods. Detail extends to the design of the pamphlet, too: the end-papers are printed with the repeat motif of an ancient bicycle, a perch for a resting pigeon, while the appropriately green cover displays a flowering plant flourishing in a crack in stonework. Every detail counts.