After reading Michael Crummey’s Hard Light, I went out to a mainland party, and kissed a Newfoundlander in a taxi. Next time I got tangled up in Crummey, a lover read from Under The Keel in a hotel room overlooking the harbour, and we fell for a spell. Now these poems and I meet again, undone in my saltbox house, sober by morning light.
Little Dogs New & Selected Works (Anansi, 2016) is a shared history, the knowing amongst familiar strangers in a small town.
As Crummey confesses in the acknowledgements to drunkenly suggesting a selected works to Sarah McLaughlin, publisher of Anansi, three years ago on a Toronto patio, he remains indebted to those who paid witness. Much like his persona portrays, Crummey’s poetry is striking, humble, and honest.
The book begins Arguments With Gravity, originally published in 1996 by Quarry Press, and holds the crux, “Rivers/Roads,” prefaced by Adrienne Rich – “I thought I was following a track of freedom and for awhile it was.” “Rivers/Roads,” juxtaposes the manufactured with the natural.
The road is incessant, repetitive and commanding, while the river is “less opinionated, less predictable.” Some of us are roads, others rivers – one is governed by gravity, the other cannot be tamed, it runs wild. Crummey’s poem argues, it’s how we arrive.
Crummey’s collection, Hard Light, originally published by Brick Books in 1998, is arguably one of the most important books to come out of Newfoundland and Labrador. Poems like “What’s Lost,” “Capelin Skull,” “Newfoundland Sealing Disaster,” and “Bread,” make up the essence of this place.
Its hard-worn poetics, grief, and merciless geography are combated by hearts-on-sleeve weathered souls, and perseverance. No bells, no whistles, this is poetry of pure survival.
The selected works from Salvage, published by McClelland & Stewart in 2002, are harrowing, heartbreaking, and sensual. “Undone,” features a subtly suggestive line – “It was very late,/ the stars about to be undone/ by daylight.” Though, “The Kiss,” “Fog City,” and “Northern Lights, Looking Back,” deeply resonate.
Under the Keel, published by Anansi in 2013, offers more brazen incantations, poetry equal parts cocksure and craftsmanship. “Questions of Travel,” takes up Elizabeth Bishop’s baggage, wanderlust, and alcoholism, while “Getting the Marriage into Bed,” makes for a stark, yet incendiary proposal.
The lines “bliss lives for bliss alone,/ apply yourself to that ephemeral sliver,” are gospel, shadowed by “You have less time than you think.” Though it’s “Something New,” “Something “Borrowed,” and “Something Blue,” that form Crummey’s poetic vows.
Little Dogs New & Selected Works is a marriage of consequence and desire. The book ends with several new poems; including: “Red Indian Lake,” “The Hangover,” “Little Dogs,” and closes with “Keel.” Little Dogs offers poems that can be read like one-night stands, others linger like old flames, and there’s even a saucy affair. Most importantly, there are new hounds to snarl, bark at, and roll into bed with.
Michael’s new book will co-launch with Lisa Moore’s latest on Thursday May 26th, at the Christina Parker Gallery (50 Water Street) from 7-9pm.