Stepping Outside, 1974
Instructions to the Double, 1976
Under Stars, 1978
Portable Kisses, 1978
On Your Own, 1978
Amplitude: New and Selected Poems, 1987
Moon Crossing Bridge, 1992
The Valentine Elegies, 1993
Owl Spirit Dwelling, 1994
My Black Horse: New and Selected Poems, 1995
Portable Kisses Expanded, 1995
The Lover of Horses, and Other Stories, 1986
At the Owl Woman Saloon, 1997
The Night Belongs to the Police, 1982
Dostoevsky, 1985 (with Raymond Carver)
The Wheel, 1970
A Concert of Tenses: Essays on Poetry, 1986
Soul Barnacles: Ten More Years with Ray, 2000 (Greg Simon, editor)
The poet Tess Gallagher (GAL-uh-gur), one of the leading figures in the American feminist literary movement that began in the mid-1970’s, was born Tess Bond, the oldest of five children. Both her parents worked in the logging industry, and as a girl Bond assisted her father in the lumber trade and helped to farm the family’s small ranch.
Gallagher began her writing career at the age of sixteen as a reporter for the Port Angeles Daily News. Her interest in journalism led her to enroll in the University of Washington, where one of the faculty members, Theodore Roethke, sparked her interest in poetry. She discontinued her studies, however, to marry the sculptor Lawrence Gallagher in 1963. The marriage dissolved five years later under the pressure of separation during the Vietnam War.
Tess Bond Gallagher thereupon resumed her studies and graduated from the University of Washington in 1968 with a degree in English; she earned an M.A. there in 1970. In 1973 Gallagher married the poet Michael Burkard; that marriage lasted four years.
In 1974 Gallagher graduated from the prestigious Writers’ Workshop at the University of Iowa with an M.F.A. Her first volume of poetry, Stepping Outside, appeared that same year. The book was praised for its refreshing style and its gentle but firm defiance toward a patriarchal society. Stepping Outside was followed two years later by Instructions to the Double, which won the Elliston Award as the best book of poetry published by a small press. In this autobiographical volume Gallagher explores the many influences that contributed to her development as a woman and poet. “Black Money,” for example, portrays her lower middle-class family at the mercy of the economic and social forces beyond their influence and comprehension. In “Breasts,” the poet as a young girl, playing shirtless with her brothers, becomes aware of her development into womanhood and the restrictions that will be placed upon her when she is scolded by her mother to put on a shirt.
In 1974 Gallagher began her teaching career as an instructor of English at St. Lawrence University. From 1975 to 1977 she taught creative writing at Kirkland College. During the following year she was a visiting lecturer at the University of Montana, Missoula.
Gallagher met the celebrated short-story writer Raymond Carver at a writing conference in Dallas in 1977, at a time when he was recovering from alcoholism. They began living together a year later in El Paso, Texas, and were inseparable from then until Carver’s death in 1988. Gallagher adopted many aspects of Carver’s writing style, including his use of telling detail and common language. Carver, under Gallagher’s influence, began publishing poetry. During their eleven years of association Carver and Gallagher produced a total of eleven books. Each was the other’s best critic, confidant, and editor. They were married shortly before Carver’s death.
Gallagher’s third volume, Under Stars, consists of two sections. In the first, “The Ireland Poems,” she explores the land of her ancestry, revealing the influence of her travels in Ireland and her close association with contemporary Irish poets. In considering Irish landscapes, culture, and politics she often uses aspects of traditional Irish poetry. The second section, “Start Again Somewhere,” displays a growing sense of the compassion that began to mark Gallagher’s later work. In 1978 Gallagher was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship.
Although her earlier volumes were sometimes criticized as uneven, the publication of Willingly in 1984 marked Gallagher’s emergence as a fully mature, confident poet. Many of the poems in this collection deal with the death of Gallagher’s father and her search for moral direction in the wake of this loss. “Boat Ride,” for example, describes Gallagher’s final fishing trip with her father. In contrast to her father’s never-ending frustration with life, the poet arrives at a peaceful sense of her own place through confronting her father’s death.
The Lover of Horses, a collection of short stories, again shows Carver’s influence. These stories, like Carver’s, depict uninspired, unenlightened people who arrive at sudden moments of inspiration or enlightenment. Gallagher’s epiphanies often deal with a lack of connectedness. “Turpentine” features a couple that move from house to house, fixing up each one only to move on. In “Girls,” two elderly women who had once been close friends meet again, and one of them strives unsuccessfully to make the other remember her. Amplitude, published in 1987, is a selection of poems from earlier volumes, with a small section of new work. The newly collected poems continue to show Carver’s influence in their use of narrative and preference for unadorned language.
After Carver’s death, there was an interim of four years before Gallagher, in 1992, published another collection of poetry. In Moon Crossing Bridge she dealt with her grief over Carver’s death in such poems as “Red Poppy,” which describes the moment of Carver’s death, and “Spacious Encounter,” which wonders what Carver might have written had his life not been cut short. Her subsequent poetry collections, The Valentine Elegies, Owl Spirit Dwelling, My Black Horse, and Portable Kisses Expanded, have all been well received and show the continuing maturation of her work as a poet. At the Owl Woman Saloon, Gallagher’s second collection of short stories, was also generally well received. Many of the stories are about people coming to terms with death and loss, as Gallagher was doing herself when writing them.