Thursday, April 05, 2012

Poem: Tess Gallagher

I've never blogged a poem by Tess Gallagher (1943-), a poet whose work I know of but have not much read, but when I came across the poem below, "I Stop Writing the Poem," I knew I had to post it, since it's a poem about writing poems that's also a poem about grief, relationships, gender, socialization. It's a poem about the lives the poem's lyric speaker has led, that Gallagher has led, that millions of women lead (with the "poem" being whatever it is they are doing that they stop doing to undertake a more mundane but important task, for someone else, and for, as we come to see, themselves), that many women poets lead.

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.


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.

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