One of the first writers to read at Elliott Bay, which Tess Gallagher first did in 1985 with Raymond Carver, Tess Gallagher makes this most welcome return this evening to read from her eleventh collection of poetry, Is, Is Not (Graywolf). She and Graywolf have a publishing relationship spanning the length of Graywolf’s 45-year existence - which we don’t think is matched by anyone else presently writing or publishing in this country. Her debut collection, Instructions to the Double, in winning the prestigious Ellison Prize, helped put Graywolf (then in Port Townsend) on the literary map. She is at the height of her considerable poetic powers in this newest book.
“Inseeing, Rilke tells us, is that manner of looking that takes us out of ourselves and deeply, compassionately, into an other, into, say, the very centre of a dog, “the place where it begins to be a dog”. The poems in Tess Gallagher’s Is, Is Not tremble with this inseeing: of the deer and the hummingbirds among the rhododendrons, for example, but too, of the rhododendrons themselves and then, astonishingly, of the dusk into which they vanish, into air – into time itself. These are remarkable poems that bring together the disparate pieces of a long life fully lived: some are saturated with the Pacific Northwest of the poet’s hardscrabble childhood, where she mostly lives now; others are inhabited by the north-west of Ireland where she has spent over 50 hyphenated years of her adulthood, or frequent encounters in Montenegro and Romania, marking her life as a poet in the world. The book itself is dedicated to two great loves (the American writer Raymond Carver, and the Irish painter and storyteller, Josie Gray) and its narratives echo through time, as when the girl whose mother braided her hair is recognisable in another poem as the daughter who treasures the memory of braiding her aging mother’s snow-white, waist-length hair beside the sea. Beneath all the places, stories and loves, this poet finds that deep resonance of common essence. There is beauty and grief and humour here; there is a gentle wisdom; there is a quiet, incremental insight that sings us awake.” - Jane Mead.