Robert Burns Fellow 2018
Rhian Gallagher’s work is a moving blend of unique perspectives and poetic craft that creates subtly haunting effects.
Her first book of poems Salt Water Creek, published in London, was shortlisted for the 2003 Forward Prize for First Collection. In New Zealand, she won a Canterbury History Foundation Award in 2007, and wrote Feeling for Daylight: The Photographs of Jack Adamson, a non-fiction biography published by the South Canterbury Museum. She won the New Zealand Post Book Award for Poetry in 2012 for her second poetry collection, Shift.
In 2016, Gallagher collaborated with artist Lynn Taylor and Otakou Press printer-in-residence Sarah Smith to publish poems on the life and activities of Freda Du Faur (1882–1935), the first woman to climb Aoraki/Mount Cook.
She described the Burns Fellowship as an expansive, generous opportunity and a real honour. “In terms of creative space it is like moving from the backyard to a wide open plateau. Anything could happen! The Fellowship is also an opportunity for conversation and exchange within the humanities and, in this, it exudes possibility. It doesn’t involve a relocation for me but it is a completely new mindset.”
She will primarily be writing poetry. “One aspect of the work is focussed on the early history of the Seacliff Asylum in relation to Irish migrants. I’m looking to develop a series of letter poems.”
Many years ago Charles Brasch, the initiator of the Robert Burns Fellowship, wrote, “Part of a university’s proper business is to act as nurse to the arts, or, more exactly, to the imagination as it expresses itself in the arts and sciences. Imagination may flourish anywhere. But it should flourish as a matter of course in the university, for it is only through imaginative thinking that society grows, materially and intellectually.‘ (Landfall, March 1959).
The Robert Burns Fellowship is New Zealand’s premier literary residency. The Fellowship was established in 1958 to commemorate the bicentenary of the birth of Robert Burns, and it is designed to encourage imaginative New Zealand literature and to bring writers to the University. Past fellows include Janet Frame, Roger Hall, Keri Hulme, James K. Baxter, Maurice Shadbolt, Michael King, Ian Cross, Owen Marshall, Ruth Dallas, James Norcliffe, David Eggleton, Sarah Quigley and Sue Wootton.