By Rhian Gallagher
I have read "Shift" four times and every time I think I get it, I am thrown by some cryptic reference, by an odd phrase, a whim or a curved ball that is uncatchable. I have written and read poetry for over forty years and I have been entertained and frustrated in equal measure. I am a simple soul, but one that craves intellectual challenge, even if I don't understand everything I read. I love a writer's urge to be an individual, to flirt, to manipulate, to tease, to say something that means everything to the poet but leaves the reader reeling in a state of agony, trying to comprehend what the hell is going on. I love to eavesdrop on angst, to peer through a keyhole, to ogle intimacy and to swim in an ocean of emotion, if a writer is willing to allow access.
For all these reasons and much, much more, I loved "Shift" by the remarkable Rhian Gallagher.
There is nothing easy here, nothing to take for granted. This is a poet baring her soul as she takes us on her journey from homeland New Zealand to Europe, specifically London, and on to Brooklyn. Rhian Gallagher looks within herself from the outset in the evocative poem “Blood Work”, remembering her father: “….and I couldn’t see/how I’d make the journey/going away and away from him.” I was struck by these words especially because of my own father’s abruptness when leaving home when I was six. I see affection here from Gallagher, in contrast to my own anger. If a writer can encapsulate something about the reader, then that is a very clever writer indeed, or a very sensitive reader, perhaps.
I have sincere admiration for my sisters for reasons that I will not go into here, but Rhian Gallagher brought out so many feelings in “My Sister’s Country”, “My Sister’s Dead Perfection” and “My Sister Remade” that I had to stop reading and take a breath. “You were tough and sweet/and wonderfully mean./I tugged on your hem/with my questions, I rode/in your slipstream.”
This is a poetry book that seeps into your personal life because it is so personal to begin with. It is true to it’s title. It shifts locations, issues, poetic styles, and touches you when and where you least expect it to. It is an exemplary work and will require re-reading to ensure maximum understanding and satisfaction.
My favourite line, from “Crossroad”, “Giving up on words is the final failure.” Amen to that!
Rhian Gallagher has created a collection to confirm that she is a poet to cherish, one not to ignore, one that is adept at getting to your heart, your soul, your inner core. “Shift” is essential reading. Rhian Gallagher is a special talent.