Dirge Bucolic is like a poetics of dust: a mosaic of fragments that are examined with a sharp gaze and recalibrated with a voice both sincere and lyrical. The poet slips around like a ghost, exposing our dark histories, wandering through the grime of our otherwise repressed psyches. Gallagher’s experimental poetry exemplifies the complexities of self, elegising our bucolic backwaters without resorting to an oversimplification of identity. A refreshing voice of Aotearoa poetry that we didn’t know we were waiting for, this book is the remarkable debut of a poet we should all be reading.
In true antipodean form, Gallagher’s Dirge Bucolic inverts the colonial—its language, its archives, its death-drive. Because, growing like flowers through these gritty, playful, ill-met elegiac experiments in autobiography and ecopoetics is the hope that we haven’t completely destroyed the natural world, that we haven’t yet turned the antipodes into a mythical ‘Erewhon’ (nowhere).
Throughout this book, we see the process of writing “so as to die,” but the destruction of old selves is generative: despite illness, loss, and grief, it is “still possible to salvage precious things from their ruins,” Gallanger writes—and in Dirge Bucolic she has.
Jasmine Gallagher’s collection is special because it is suspended in the minutiae, in what she writes and how she writes, with death in the footnotes. There is an attention to human frailty; or more precisely, a stoicism in the face of it, traced through personal and historical reference points. I know, too, the threshold of low sun long macrocarpa evening she speaks of, and the bark of a dog that ricochets wide. And though funereal, Dirge Bucolic has something glinting about it, burnished by a gothic resolve.