Hauntingly beautiful, Katherine Gallagher’s Acres of Light is steeped in lyricism. It is observant, evocative, and is above all, a celebration of life. A highly accomplished poet known for her mesmerising attention to detail, in this her sixth collection, Gallagher delivers a stunning series of poems, all of which radiate passion.
Gallagher – who was born in Australia and moved to Europe – keeps location at the heart of the collection, exploring the shared relationship one can have with surroundings. Consider the soft, delicate language of “Elan”:
I walk lightheaded, heels
gliding, in love with all this –
the halcyon afternoon, its warming breeze[.]
The collection’s attentiveness to landscape is so precise that one can clearly picture the scene portrayed. From the pollen rendering the web a “golden net” in “Bees” to the “unblinking topaz eyes” of the birthday owl in the poem of that name, it is almost an invitation for us to open our eyes and view the world again. The experience of travel itself becomes part of this, as seen in “Coming into Zurich”:
A wing-tip draws its arc
over the valley, a city clasping
a river to itself. This plane-travel
is the riskiest thing I do[.]
But whilst Gallagher does make effective use of highlighting the beauty of the natural world encountered, she also develops a sense of displacement in “Odyssey”:
Remembering the lights of a hundred cities
and not quite belonging[.]
Indeed, some of the poems indicate a sense of longing, a feeling of missing home. In “Rings” –written in memory of Gallagher’s mother – the speaker appears to resent that she is living “a hemisphere away”.
Throughout the collection, Gallagher experiments with form. In “Haiku”, the now traditional 5-7-5 syllable European interpretation of the form is discarded; however in every other respect Gallagher keeps the spirit and parameters of the haiku, and these are indeed poems of spontaneity and sudden illumination. They read as brief yet thoughtful observations of nature:
autumn morning –
a rain-soaked rose
sways in the breeze
inside the robin’s
pure song –
Similarly, the decision to keep everything in lower case in “Snow” seems to suggest that the introduction of capital letters would mean the piercing of the fresh sheets of untouched snow.
Part of the brilliance of Acres of Light is that despite the collection’s complex and sometimes emotionally-driven poems, it still maintains a celebratory nature. Life, for what it is, takes centre stage and is observed from every angle. Gallagher is unafraid to takes her poetry to whimsical lengths, whether that be with the fairytale-esque “Finding the Prince” or with the wave-like “The Dream is the Ocean”:
The ocean calls the dolphin
The dolphin calls the wave
The wave calls the sun
The sun calls the coral[.]
Poems such as “Beatles Poem” demonstrate the collection’s moments of joy, as the speaker enthuses over the band; “The Spell of Fireflies” does not take itself too seriously, whilst also taking an optimistic approach:
At a pinch, I believe in time-pieces, hair extensions and fake tans,
a sugar-free diet, and testing chairs for comfort.
Love can make you wise to the future,
laced with a just-right, wake-up tale. I believe in
sprinting the extra mile and in happy days for optimists.
Teeming with poems which are both expressive and creative, Acres of Light is a delightfully warm collection that observes the world, and rejoices. Gallagher’s talents provide poetry that is lively but laced with sensitivity – effective for conveying the wonders and woes of any travels. With such vivid detail and melodious language, truly, life has never looked more beautiful.