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Is, Is Not by Tess Gallagher

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Tess Gallagher’s new poems are suspended between contradiction and beauty.

Is, Is Not upends our notions of linear time, evokes the spirit and sanctity of place, and journeys toward discovering the full capacity of language. Gallagher’s poems reverberate with the inward clarity of a bell struck on a mountaintop and hover daringly at the threshold of what language can nearly deliver while offering alternative corollaries as gifts of its failures. Guided by humour, grace, and a deep inquiry into the natural world, every poem nudges us toward moments of awe. How else except by delight and velocity would we discover the miracle within the ordinary?

Gallagher claims many Wests – the Northwest of America, the north-west of Ireland, and a West even further to the edge, beyond the physical. These landscapes are charged with invisible energies and inhabited by the people, living and dead, who shape Gallagher’s poems and life. Restorative in every sense, Is, Is Not is the kind of book that takes a lifetime to write – a book of the spirit made manifest by the poet’s unrelenting gaze and her intimate engagement with the mysteries that keep us reaching.

Tess Gallagher is the author of eleven books of poetry, including Midnight Lantern: New and Selected Poems, Dear Ghosts, and Moon Crossing Bridge. Gallagher spends time in Co. Sligo, Ireland, and also in her hometown of Port Angeles, Washington.

'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. I treasure these poems.' – Jane Mead



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