Thursday, 22 March 2012
Catches Up as Joy: Tess Gallagher at the South Bank
The reading in the Purcell Rooms on Tuesday was a major disappointment in so far as John Kinsella (one of the main draws for me) couldn't make it due to sickness.
His last-minute replacement was Rachel Boast (author of Sidereal) and,like the other first-half reader Jean Sprackland, she regaled us with the kind of over-familiar, risk-averse poetry aptly placed to garner Whitbreads and Costas and all manner of other commercially-sponsored awards. Boast was certainly the more engaging of the two, however, due to the metaphysical and scientific scope of her work, citing Samuel Taylor-Coleridge as her book's "presiding spirit".
Tess Gallagher, with a hefty New and Selected Poems (Bloodaxe) to promote, was a far more vibrant reader and between-poem speaker, with poems ranging over her links to Ireland, memories of Raymond Carver, a lament for a hummingbird, and the stunning meditation 'At Lorca's Piano'. In many respects her manner has changed little since the 60s, but it's just this post-Beat quality of rambling personal disclosure imbued with a sort of ragtaggle spiritual enquiry that's still so treasurable to hear, offsetting apparently prosaic narratives with potent undertones and crosscurrents, occasionally leading to startlingly beautiful lines such as "our soon-to-be-deadness catches up in us as joy".
Gallagher should have been the headliner as Douglas Dunn could only be described as dull. Glints of acerbic Scots wryness were the only palliatives to a monotone rehearsal of the same post-Larkinian stylings Dunn has (with the notable exception of his best and most widely-read book Elegies) soldiered on with.