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Acres of Light by Katherine Gallagher (Arc Publications)

Acres of Light by Katherine Gallagher (Arc Publications)

‘grass grows beneath us: minute blades stir,
flicker – something is happening – a season
emptying into the moment, rinsing clean.’

I was struck by these closing lines of ‘Elan’, the first poem in this publication of New Poems by Katherine Gallagher. I like the liquidity of movement, that use of ‘rinsing’ with its delicate nod towards Hopkins’s ‘Spring’ in which ‘echoing timber does so rinse and wring’. I like the urgent sense of the present and the way in which its immediacy follows on from the stanza before in which ‘Children’s voices / split the air’. I am left almost waiting for ‘the little / lame balloonman’ to whistle his way out of ee cummings

‘and eddieandbill come
running from marbles and
piracies and it’s
spring

when the world is puddle-wonderful’

On the back cover of this fine Arc volume Martyn Crucefix writes of the poet’s new collection being ‘bejewelled throughout with haiku-like moments of vivid observation’:

‘Her delighted responses – in particular to the natural world – serve to peel away the film of familiarity through which we usually gaze’.

Many of these poems evoke the world of journeying and the accumulations acquired along the way. As the epigraph to ‘Odyssey’ puts it, ‘The danger of travelling / is how it takes you over’. We move from Maldon (the poet’s birthplace in Victoria) to Chartres; a ring bought in Florence becomes a talisman in Welsh fog near Brecon; the gold-mining town of Daylesford in the foothills of the Great Dividing Range is haunted by the poet’s mother whilst a leisurely riverboat ride ‘through Shepperton to Hampton Court’ follows the Thames. The Homeric theme of nostos threads its way through the years as well as the miles and Gallagher remembers ‘the lights of a hundred cities’ to none of which does she quite belong:

‘arriving by motorway, train or plane,
sucked into streets of languages
controlling locales, time, the air.

Which way, a thrum of questions, adapting lines
pidgin speak, as each city revealed
its minarets and spires, the glasshouses
of a chameleon century…’

We are not in the world of vertigo and claustrophobia that squats heavily upon Todgers Guest House in the early pages of Martin Chuzzlewit:

‘You couldn’t walk about in Todgers’s neighbourhood, as you could in any other neighbourhood. You groped your way for an hour through lanes and bye-ways, and court-yards and passages; and never once emerged upon anything that might be reasonably called a street. A kind of resigned distraction came over the stranger as he trod those devious mazes and, giving himself up for lost, went in and out and round about, and quietly turned back again when he came to a dead wall or was stopped by an iron railing, and felt that the means of escape might possibly present themselves in their own good time, but that to anticipate them was hopeless.’

Katherine Gallagher’s memories of her mother pour themselves out, emptying the past into the present, rinsing clean so that

‘I imagine you here, being yourself, striding

beneath a theatre of stars.’

Ian Brinton 3rd January 2017

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