Essays and Criticism
Gallagher's Poem in Light of the Poet's Own Reflections that it was Written to Help her form a New Language
Tess Gallagher and short-story writer and poet Raymond Carver were intricately linked not only as husband and wife but also as colleagues, helping one another bring forth their artistic expressions. When Carver died, Gallagher fell into a six-month silence in terms of her creative writing. When the silence was broken, she returned to poetry, slowly forming a new voice. The creation of this new voice, the author claims, was captured in her poems collected in Moon Crossing Bridge, which includes "I Stop Writing the Poem." Studying what Gallagher was trying to do in this collection gives the reader an opportunity to rethink the images and language contained in her work and thus come to a more valued understanding of the poem.
The first and probably most natural impression one might take upon reading Gallagher's poem "I Stop Writing the Poem" is that the speaker is struggling over the loss of a loved one, that the poet wrote the poem to help her get over the pain of death. According to Gallagher in her book Soul Barnacles: Ten More Years with Ray, that was indeed part of the process. She emphasizes this point in her memoir with her statement that she visited Carver's grave every day for two and a half years. The loss must have been devastating for her. However, she elaborates further, writing that most people mistakenly defined all the poems in Moon Crossing Bridge "as simply artifacts of mourning." Gallagher clarifies her actual intent for writing these poems by stating, "These poems [were written as] the replenishment of self, and of the beloved, to fertile inner ground." In other words, Gallagher was searching through her writing for a new form or a new language with which she could continue communicating with herself, her emotions, and Carver despite the fact that he was gone. "The poems melded what had been parted," she writes, "as the new form took hold, the distance between us dissolved."
So, what does Gallagher mean when she says she wanted to create a new form of language, and how does this language dissolve the distance between the lovers, one of whom no longer exists on the physical plane? Gallagher gives the reader a hint of the first step in her process in the opening lines of the poem "I Stop Writing the Poem," in which the speaker stops writing in order to take care of mundane household chores. By stopping her writing and moving on to an everyday kind of task, the speaker has changed her focus from the abstract process of creativity to the more physical aspects of daily life. Gallagher does not write that she takes a break from her writing or that she pauses, both of which connote that a return is inevitable; rather, she uses the word "stopped," which, of course, conveys a cessation or discontinuance. In choosing the word "stopped," Gallagher creates a gap between the worlds of the imagination and the corporeal. She implies that one world must end before the other can begin. There is no bridge connecting the two.
This is the same feeling she experienced when Carver died. The physical world and the unknown world to which he departed appeared to her as being disconnected. In life, the lovers identified one another through physicality, but upon death, his body decayed, and, therefore, the lovers no longer could communicate, or that is what she believed at first. In the same way as the act of writing a poem is separated from the performance of chores, so too are the two lovers separated by death. These are the impressions given in the beginning of Gallagher's poem, reflecting the initial understanding she must have had upon losing her husband.
With the poem out of her mind, the speaker focuses on the tangible. She leaves her writing to go do the laundry. However, despite the fact that she has stopped writing, the speaker has not stopped thinking about her loss, nor has she stopped...
(The entire section is 1576 words.)