Startling use of language in fine collection

05:22, Sep 05 2011


Rhian Gallagher

Auckland University Press, $24.99

I am always hesitant to review another poet's work. It is a great privilege but you have to tread carefully. Poetry can be very personal.

When it comes down to it, one person's idea of good poetry can be like wading through mud to another. However, in saying that, Shift is remarkably easy-reading for poet and non-poet alike. Gallagher's poems are down-to-earth, accessible and often deeply moving.

She talks about her departure from London after 18 years – such as in the poem Shift: "Friends, I miss you all already; This night brimmed with your hopes; The South Island couldn't be more far."


And then her return to the South Island in The Nor-wester: "The mountaineers are in trouble; the windsurfers are in heaven; and our lives are covered; with small dead insect wings; and the ground bones of rabbits and birds."

Gallagher writes modern verse, her language is quite startling – in fact, I found myself contemplating some images in these poems and thinking, "yes, it is like that".

For example, in Distant Fields (Anzac Parade): "Medalled, ribboned chests, an effort; carried through them, the war; still going on inside their heads; gathered up for roll call."

Gallagher was born in Timaru, moving to London in 1987 as a young woman. She has had poems published in Poetry NZ, Sport and Landfall, and anthologies such as The Nature of Things and 121 New Zealand Poems.

In 2007 she won a Canterbury History Foundation Award, in 2008 she won the Janet Frame Literary Trust Award and in 2009 published Feeling for Daylight: The Photographs of Jack Adamson with the South Canterbury Museum. This is her second collection of poetry. A beautiful collection, you'll like it.


The Timaru Herald