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This review is taken from PN Review 252, Volume 46 Number 4, March - April 2020.

Cover of Is, Not Is
David C. WardGlad to see you coming / Hard to see you go
Tess Gallagher, Is, Not Is (Bloodaxe) £12
There’s always something creative about the edge, the margins, and frontiers. Dividing lines where one can perch, in but not completely of one side or the other, and take stock on both people and past time. The poet Tess Gallagher divides her time between the American Northwest and the north-western coast of Ireland near Sligo. The dual locales provide her with subject matter and topics – whales in the Pacific; abortion politics in Ireland – but marginality is as much a cast of mind as it is a place. Most poets have it to begin with – the sense of looking slant – and the real distance in Gallagher’s poems is between herself and her past, especially from those she has lost. Gallagher is rooted in Port Angeles, Washington and Sligo now by the graves of her husband poet and writer Raymond Carver and her long term companion, artist Josie Gray. Her title ‘Is, Is not’ gestures to death’s sleight of hand: you’re here; now you’re gone. What are we to make of that dividing line? That absence?

What Gallagher has made of it is a series of elegies and reflections on her personal history, both family and friends. Raymond Carver could write brutally about American poverty and its effects. Gallagher is a little softer but you can still get a sense of how hard a hardscrabble life can be. Her coal miner father tells of the ‘hell life’ in the mines, asking ‘How could a child lift that?’. But, lessons were learned:
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