‘The Year of the Tree’ was the first poem I read by Katherine Gallagher. It knocked me out with its humour and its simple truth about recycling, renewal and growth within nature. I carried a tree/through the Underground. It was hard. At first/ people scarcely noticed me/and the oak I was lugging/along the platforms. Trees are an on-going theme. She mentions the pleasure of seeing the oaks and chestnut trees around her holiday home outside Gorre in the Limousin region of France. She speaks of the sorrow she felt at fields near her family farm in Central Victoria, Australia where she spent her childhood, having been largely stripped of trees by the early European settlers. She never felt lonely in spite of the isolated location, but sometimes felt hemmed in by the enormity of space and sky. In her recent 6th full poetry collection, Acres of Light (Arc Publications, 2016) she captures the feeling of vast flatness stretching out for miles towards the distant mountain range. Her brother Kevin, to whom the book is dedicated, planted 20,000 Eucalyptus, wattles and other native trees. As a result, the Black Swan and other indigenous birds have returned to the area. Sadly, her brother passed away a few years ago but her nephew still lives on the farm.
I first visited Katherine Gallagher during the summer of 2015 during her stay at her holiday home. She had offered to review some of my poems, and we spent a pleasant few hours drinking black coffee while talking about Sylvia Plath and Stevie Smith, and she was very gracious about my poetry. Later that year she hosted a workshop at the Charroux Literary Festival about the influence of Monet on her poetry.
Painting is another recurring theme. While living in Paris in the 70’s she spent her spare hours wandering the Art Galleries. She enjoyed exploring the abstract nature of French poets and was influenced to write a number of poems about ‘the eye as a persona’, the idea that the eye is on a journey through life, through landscapes. She says her poetry is always visual. She loves the Paris skyline, and the freedom it creates when you look upwards through the trees and buildings.
Her first collection of poems was published in Australia in 1974; as she says it was where she was already known. Later when she moved with her French husband to London she was first published by Forest Books and translated the French poet Jean-Jacques Celly for them. She then approached Arc Publications and has stayed with them ever since. She loves London, the parks and trees, the springtime when they come to life. She says that like all great cities,’it’s a place that belongs to everyone.’
She describes her poetry being about reclaiming memory, she likes using words that resonate. She quotes from Robert Frost, when we write poetry, we’re not trying to tell our readers something they didn’t already know—we’re trying to give them ‘the shock of recognition.’
In rural France she finds the quiet pace of life conducive to working on a range of writing commissions, catching up on her reading, and of course, her poetry. She enjoys walking around Limoges, she calls it a green city, full of gardens. She takes time to visit her husband’s family in the Berry, and to explore local towns and villages. She recommends Gorre, where they often visit the restaurant Le Relais de Gorre set in a garden of lime trees. Thoughts of Monet return. She compares the poet’s words, with the painter’s art. She says her poems are her paintings, she paints her world in words. (www.katherine-gallagher.com)
Kate Rose for Bonjour Limousin