Poetry: TESS GALLAGHER TROUBADOUR CAFE

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The Independent Culture
"Let me just settle here in this corner like a cowgirl," said Tess Gallagher before she got on to talking about the BBC interviewer who seemed to have understood almost nothing about her poetry. "For God's sake, I've been writing poetry for 35 years," she protested. "It was like a tin-can Ray's Parade." The Ray in question was Raymond Carver, to whom she was married until he died of lung cancer in 1988. "All she wanted to hear about were the kids in the bath...", Tess added, referring to one of the more anecdotal poems about her childhood in that small logging town in the Pacific North-West.

Tess Gallagher is in her early sixties now. She has known hard times - her father was alcoholic; Ray was an ex-alcoholic - and she's come through it all with her energies undiminished. At the moment, in addition to writing her own poetry and putting together a collection of short stories about revenge, she's preparing a definitive edition of Carver's poems. She is also in discussion with Robert Altman about a second film based on Carver's stories - Short Cuts was the first. The BBC interviewerknew about that all right.

When she reads from My Black Horse, her new volume of selected poems (published by Bloodaxe this week), Gallagher swims in fond memories, summarised in Moon Crossing Bridge, a sequence of elegies she wrote after Ray's death. There is neither embarrassment nor morbidity in any of this - merely that refreshing way Americans have of staring the facts of death full in the face. The poems about Ray are good, but they are not quite as good as what she tells us about the circumstances of their lives. And her emotionally splintered reading can be a real distraction from the metaphorical stew she usually concocts.

There is a delightful little poem called The Hug. "Some kind of hardcore poetry people wanted me to take it out... In the United States, if you have any jollity in a poem, it can't be a poem capital P." A line at the end goes, "When you hug someone, you want it to be a masterpiece of connection." Tess reads this with a wicked sense of full-blooded fun in her eye, raising those pencilled-in Modigliani eye-brows of hers - not centralised by romantic love any more, but still in the hope zone.

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