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A Good Enough Love / Owen Gallagher

A Good Enough Love

By: Owen Gallagher

'An open-eyed, quirky, quietly dexterous collection from Southall, from Ireland, from the bedroom and doctor’s waiting room. Owen Gallagher’s poems should be more widely known.'  Moniza Alvi In his third collection of poetry, Owen Gallagher explores the notion of ‘a good enough love’ from “The Breast Thief” to family love in “The Cure For Homose...
ISBN 978-1-910669-19-8
Pub Date Monday, June 22, 2015
Cover Image A Good Enough Love by Ian MacCabe, 2015.
Page Count 56
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'An open-eyed, quirky, quietly dexterous collection from Southall, from Ireland, from the bedroom and doctor’s waiting room. Owen Gallagher’s poems should be more widely known.'  Moniza Alvi

In his third collection of poetry, Owen Gallagher explores the notion of ‘a good enough love’ from “The Breast Thief” to family love in “The Cure For Homosexuality”.  In “Fusion”, a young Sikh and Muslim couple have to be content to swap seats, relish each other’s heat and in “Testes”, a man whose testicles have been removed utters, “All I longed for was to be held.”

Praise for Gallagher's earlier work:

'Gallagher has a genius for the short poem. He is witty, funny, 
surprising,  radical without being ideological and very, 
very dexterous in his use of language. If Gallagher were 
Poet Laureate, they wouldn’t let him near the barge.'
Alan Dent, Miss Quickly’s Bed

‘Gallagher celebrates the dignity and resilience of the working class.’      

‘Gallagher is a trouble-making poet, stirring things up. He’ll keep you asking yourself which side you’re on.’
Mike Rosen

Owen Gallagher

Owen Gallagher was born in Gorbals, Glasgow. He has family in Donegal and Leitrim and lives in London, where he worked as a primary teacher in Southall. His poems have been widely published in Ireland, Britain and abroad. He has won poetry competitions and awards for poetry from the London Arts Board and The Society of Authors. His poems have been displayed on London buses and in public places in Ireland, and were placed on the Listening Wall, at the Southbank Centre, London, as part of the Poetry International Festival, 2014.

I Like to Undress You by Phone

hear your lips part, 
your tongue draw moisture,
feel your mind as each garment slips.

I like for us to talk like this
over continents 
and drain the sadness from the pools 
in our eyes.
How thin you’ve grown.

Your hair smells of pine.
My hands are alive in its leaves. 
The trees are full of song.

The Men’s Clinic

Here in this peach-lit zone, where they play My Baby 
Don’t Care For Me, a receptionist, who could charm 
salts from gallstones, points to a water cooler 
and leaves me to fill in a questionnaire. 

Posters advertise how to feel lumps men disown,
warn of mobiles irradiating bones,
erectile difficulties, prostate cancer.

I sit in sweat; fear the swelling that has grown 
in my testicle, listen to staff advise each other
on love and loans. Told no one. Silenced my phone.

I settle for the agony columns, scratch my balls,
the only male to have shown up.
I consider painless ways to go. 

A video plays Men and Lumps. My name is called 
on an intercom. Not until it’s uttered three times do I go.

The Apostle of Dancers

He was last seen at the Matchmaker’s Festival 
in County Clare. Women remarked on his footwork, 
how he held them at afternoon tea dances
and dusk-shuffles, that he had the gift 
as if he’d been dancing from birth, inquired 
whether their details could be passed on 
when he re-emerged.  Perhaps he is still dancing. 
He never stood still at home or at school. 
Mother’s shelves are full of his trophies 
awarded before he was ordained. 
His landlady’s arthritis disappeared when he led her 
in a quick-trot round the floor. She still feels 
the kiss on her cheek, the hands on her waist, 
the words he said. The media dubbed him; 
‘The John Travolta of the Altar’.  
‘The Fred Astaire of Co. Clare'. 
There is no shortage of sightings, 
from Knock to Lourdes, 
in ballrooms and discos, 
on the floor of ocean liners, 
doing the Flamenco in Madrid. 
There’s talk of a film.  Given the prayers father 
and the parish recite, mother is assured 
God must have too much on, or the prayers 
have been lost in transit.  Either way, I pray 
his feet will bring him home for Lent, to join 
us in the fast, away from all temptation, 
the lure of music and flesh.  Mother’s tongue
is never still when she visits me in the convent.

The Personal Column

To have the seed, the bristle, the arms, 
share in all that comes, 
remain intact.

To cart the world, build an ark 
out of words, 
a place to bask.  

Someone not parched or starched.
A campfire. 
A heart uncharted.

Copyright © Owen Gallagher 2015
Review: A Good Enough Love reviewed by Peter Raynard (August 2015)

"A wonderful poetry collection. Owen is six foot or more, from the Gorbals in Glasgow and his poems reflect a real tenderness and insight into love, illness and masculinity. "Reprieve" is one of the best tragi-comic poems I have read - "...signed my suicide note...about to leap from the stairwell of the tower block/I felt liquid pour down my forehead....Glancing up, I witnessed a neighbour shake the last drops from himself..." Great cover as well.

Review: A Good Enough Love reviewed by Josh Ekroy for Londongrip

Josh Ekroy observes that Owen Gallagher has attempted a monumental task in his latest collection

Owen Gallagher’s collection Tea With The Taliban (Smokestack, 2012) was more subversive than this. It addressed more public issues and his poems have appeared in The Morning Star (now, surely, more than ever a badge of honour) as well as the leftist website, Militant Thistles.

A Good Enough Love, through carefully crafted statements, is more interested in the personal interchanges involved in love and sex . It’s salted with wit and astute insight. The first section, which is often rueful, is called ‘Recycling Love’:

Unable to make her come 
once again, I lie back whilst she gropes
for the vibrator,
and listen to its hum.

I like the placing of that once again, don’t you? The woman is having an affair, and the speaker is acquiescent, surprised by his own lack of jealousy. The overt rhyme is fairly typical of many of these sideways sallies into the bedroom.

But the most commonly used word, apart from the eponymous love, is day/s. The temporary nature of feeling is constantly explored, as here, where the first three words form a refrain:

On a day when love is not available
we long for sunset,
for arms to part the dark.  
                                       (‘Not All Days’)

Available is a troubling choice of adjective: love as commodity is never far away. The clipped assonance of the third line feels consigned to emptiness. There is, of course, an art to the short poem, and Gallagher has been described as having a “genius” for it. I’m not sure that the resonances in the poems in this section (the first fifteen pages) demonstrate that, but they do provoke a satisfyingly wry smile, a sad nod of recognition.

The second section – ‘Testes’ – makes for more uncomfortable reading, at least for any male reader. I assume that the reason for tackling this topic must be autobiographical. It’s hard to see why else it would be brought into play. The poems take longer to make their effect, are less insouciant, as one might expect:

Posters advertise how to feel lumps men disown,
warn of mobiles irradiating bones,
erectile difficulties, prostate cancer.

I sit in a sweat...
                                    (‘The Men’s Clinic’)

This directness serves, by the end of the poem, to introduce an element of entrapment from which, however much the speaker would like there to be, there is no escape. Unlike ‘Reprieve’ which describes a potential suicide changing his mind when he is pissed on from a great height; the final line reads:

I took the stairs two at a time.  

The third section ‘Happiness has no Forwarding Address’ also allows poetic experience go the distance. This shows to advantage in a poem such as ‘The Cure for Homosexuality’ which does not rely on oblique wit, but remains explicit until the final stanza, whose ellipsis is moving. ‘Dusty’ inhabits the feelings of a Dusty Springfield impersonator with aplomb and feeling, but ‘Burns Night’, weighted with nostalgia, delivers fewer surprises.

There is a tender imagination at work here, which, at its best, allows the sardonic to underscore the feeling and enhance it. At its more forced, it still left me interested, as in the third section’s ‘Miss Jennings’ Departure’ an extended metaphor imaging the woman composer as lover:

the skin a blank stave for her to play,
all minims, semi-breves, quavers...

You get the idea quickly enough, but there’s a pleasure in seeing it demonstrated. Something similar happens with the suitably spare ‘Bones’ which revisits the site of a demolished street the speaker once inhabited.

These are accessible, enjoyable poems which touch and amuse. There is, however, a danger of imbalance as the exploration of this monumental subject in the first section is often curtailed. Experiences could have been developed more interestingly, as they mostly are in the second two sections. A poem such as ‘Stag’ in the first section (describing the arrival of a disturbingly sexy woman at the night-before party)  has trenchant detail and a provocative ending and demonstrates a willingness to do so.

Josh Ekroy’s first collection Ways To Build A Roadblock was published by Nine Arches Press in May, 2014. He lives in London.

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