Tonight We Celebrate the Ultimate Love Letter to Newfoundland: Michael Crummey’s Hard Light

Credit: Richard Lautens/Toronto Star
The event takes place tonight at The Ship from 7-9

9da89f98c9eb2692c934bd79f2923e77If you ask a writer, why do you write, the answer is simply an unshakeable need to capture something. Often they don’t even understand the impulse, or the need, to capture something about the human experience.

For Michael Crummey, one of Newfoundland’s most vital, successful authors, that “something” he’s capturing, across his body of work — fiction, poetry, non-fiction — is how he grew up absorbing a meaningful culture, only to watch it wither as he grew up.

Like all of his work, Michael Crummey’s Hard Light is a love letter to Newfoundland, one that’s nostalgic or melancholic for what the province is losing with each passing year. What makes his work powerful is how unsentimental and matter-of-factly it is. He’s not the first to tackle the subject matter, but he has done the very best job of it.

Lisa Moore compares Hard Light to infrared photos capturing heat leaving a thing, but instead of heat leaving a thing, it’s history and culture and meaning ghosting out of a thing. “Instead of heat loss, these blasts would register lost stories.”

“The infrared images conjuring the past in this array of fragments, poems, and vignettes might capture all kinds of traces: demolished houses, shipwrecks, the deed to a plot of land, a cemetery in the Burnt Woods, a church bell.”

Hard Light is part stories, part poetry; a hybrid unlike any local book to date. It was originally published in 1998, and after nearly two decades since its release, Crummey still considers Hard Light his best.

“I knew as I was writing it that something different was happening, that I was tapping into a vein that was giving a particular life to the material that had never been there before. It felt like there was more going on than just me writing a book, that I had opened a door onto a larger world than the one in my head.”

Hard Light is quite astounding in its impact on a reader, and is the most visceral portrayal of Newfoundland’s bygone/going culture you’ll read. He says the “love letter” sentiment was intentional from the beginning, “although I had no more coherent a plan than that when I started.”

It began with him collecting stories and material in the summer of 1995, “intending to write a book about Dad’s life growing up in Western Bay and fishing on the Labrador coast. I just dove in and hoped something would come to me. It felt at times that I was just channeling something.”

Why is it relaunching tonight? Brick Books — Canada’s preeminent poetry publisher — is celebrating it’s 40th anniversary. To do so, they’re re-releasing some of their greatest hits, and Hard Light is the 5th such book in their “classics line.” There’s a new afterword from Michael, and a blazing, insightful, spot-on foreword from Lisa Moore. The event takes place tonight at The Ship from 7-9.

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