PORT ANGELES — “It was all beauty and mystery
the kind that picks you up
effortlessly and darts through you …”
So Tess Gallagher writes of a day on the Strait of Juan de Fuca. Out fishing in a small boat, she felt the sea rolling — “like a giant turning over in sleep… lifting us so high” — and thought it was an ocean liner, come close.
“But when I looked up expecting
collision, the quash of water from their
blowholes pushed to air in unison,
a pair of gray whales not two hundred
yards away: “Look up! I shouted …”
This poem appeared months ago in The New Yorker; the magazine mentioned that Gallagher’s next poetry collection would be published in spring.
It has arrived. Graywolf Press, Gallagher’s longtime publisher, released “Is, Is Not,” her 15th book, on Tuesday.
The Port Angeles-born poet will start her book tour with two hometown readings: at 12:35 p.m. Thursday in the Little Theater at Peninsula College, 1502 E. Lauridsen Blvd., and at 7 p.m. Friday at the Port Angeles Library, 2210 S. Peabody St. Both events, co-sponsored by Port Book and News and the college’s Foothills Writers Series, are free to the public.
“When I became a poet, I didn’t know I was always going to be traveling,” Gallagher said with a smile.
She’s just flown back to the North Olympic Peninsula after a stay at her cottage near Lough Arrow in Ireland. She gave a couple of readings there on the Emerald Isle: one in Cork and another at Galway’s Cúirt International Festival of Literature.
So how does she do with jet lag?
“I just ignore it,” said the writer, who’ll turn 76 this summer.
“I do go out and walk. And I take naps. I let myself have whatever I need,” she added.
The prospect of sharing the brand-new book with her native Port Angeles fills Gallagher with fresh energy — as “a lot of these poems were born here,” she said.
They’re dedicated one after the other to her people, here and over there: family she shares with Josie Gray, her late Irish companion; her friend Alfredo Arreguin, the Mexican-born painter who lives in Seattle; the late Port Angeles writer Jim Fisher; her brother Tom Bond, her mother Georgia.
As she’s roamed the world, Gallagher has read her poetry and short stories to thousands of listeners. Each time she steps up, she asks herself: “Who’s out there? Can I get these poems to come to life?”
In this slender book, the words are all about life in the northwests of both Ireland and America. Gallagher writes of the rain; the wild creatures; moments with the moon and stars and the men she has loved.
There’s “Hummingbird-mind.” “One Deer at Dusk.” “Bus to Belfast.” “Caress.” They’re portraits, she said, of places, nights and days.
At the opening of the book, Gallagher dedicates the whole of it to Gray, a painter and storyteller who enjoyed an exhibition of his work in Port Angeles in 2014, and to her late husband Raymond Carver, the famed writer who lived the last decade of his life here with her.
Then, about halfway through the book, in “Let’s Store These Hours,” she writes:
“Let’s store your presence in our blood and breath …
Let’s take hands
just to make sure. And if anybody stumbles,
we’ll all stumble onto our knees
like a sudden joint prayer …”
Holding her book in her hands, Gallagher admires the deep blue and bright gold of the cover art.
“This is Josie’s last painting,” she said.
“So full of life.”