Tess Gallagher’s poetry is like a double- or even triple-exposed photograph: It contains layer after layer. Her poetry epitomizes the title of her early volume Instructions to the Double in that it expresses multiplicity of meaning. Gallagher writes of relationships, love, grief, and memory in and of themselves, as well as of specific memories. She writes of her Northwest childhood in a working-class family, her parents, her lovers, and her deceased husband, the writer Carver. Most of her relationship poems are set in the Northwest, with boats, forests, and birds mysteriously in concert.
Gallagher’s strength comes from extracting spiritual lessons from ordinary items or events, as in her “View from an Empty Chair.” In this way, she deals in Ralph Waldo Emerson-type correspondences; however, she takes correspondences a step further by eventually including the dead in the correspondence between humanity and nature. In “Tableau Vivant,” the dead reflect on those mourning them. Some poems mingle the living with the dead. “Inside the Known” contains a narrator who confuses her self with not only her shadow but also a corpse. “With Stars” blends childhood memory with stars and with the dead. This combining of the living with the dead and nature informs many, if not most, of the elegiac poems in Moon Crossing Bridge. In her later work, Gallagher’s romantic sensibility becomes mystical in its understanding and attempt to...
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