And yet it's also a poem that in its powerful simplicity, ordinariness and universality readers of any background can connect to. In its brevity and prosody, it is also memorable; you could probably memorize this poem in a few hours if you tried, which was, once upon a time, the mark of an effective short poem. Gallagher notes in her pre-reading remarks in the audio clip below that she wrote the poem after the death of her third husband, the iconic fiction writer and poet Raymond Carver (1938-1988), and once you know this, it takes on a deeper richness, the words unfolding like a consolation the speaker utters to herself to keep going, yet you need not know anything about her life to draw something profound from the poem.
Gallagher is the author of some 11 books of poetry, three collections of short fiction, and three other works of prose. She has taught at many colleges and universities, including Bucknell University and Whitman College, and has received many honors for her work.
I STOP WRITING THE POEM to fold the clothes. No matter who lives or who dies, I'm still a woman. I'll always have plenty to do. I bring the arms of his shirt together. Nothing can stop our tenderness. I'll get back to the poem. I'll get back to being a woman. But for now there's a shirt, a giant shirt in my hands, and somewhere a small girl standing next to her mother watching to see how it's done.
Copyright © Tess Gallagher, "I Stop Writing the Poem," from Moon Crossing Bridge, Minneapolis: Graywolf Press, 1992.