Michael Crummey | Penguin Random House Canada

Michael Crummey

Michael Crummey was born in Buchans, a mining town in the interior of Newfoundland ("as far from the salt water as you can get and still be in Newfoundland"), second of four boys; he grew up there and in Wabush, another mining town near the Quebec border of Labrador. After completing a BA in English at Memorial University in St. John's, he moved to Kingston, Ontario to pursue graduate work but dropped out before finishing his Ph. D. He has taught ESL in China and worked at the International Day of Solidarity with the People of Guatemala. Now the author of three books of poetry and a book of short stories as well as a novel, he lives in St. John’s, Newfoundland. His stories and poems have appeared in a wide range of magazines and anthologies, including twice in the League of Canadian Poets’ annual contest anthology.

Crummey “came out of the poetry closet” in 1986 when he entered and won the Gregory J. Power Poetry Contest at Memorial; the $500 award gave him the “mistaken impression there was money to be made in poetry”. In 1994 he won the inaugural Bronwen Wallace Award for Poetry, and his first book of poems was published two years later. Arguments with Gravity, which travels from pre-Confederation Newfoundland to contemporary Central America, won the Writer's Alliance of Newfoundland and Labrador Book Award for Poetry. His second collection, Hard Light, a retelling of his father’s stories of outport Newfoundland and the Labrador fishery of half a century ago, conjures a world of hard work and heavy weather, shot through with humour, endurance and love; in its imagery and sensibility it compares to Michael Turner’s poems about a British Columbia salmon cannery in Company Town. Crummey’s latest collection, published in 2001, is Emergency Roadside Assistance.

In 1994, his first published fiction was a runner up in the 1994 Prism International Short Fiction Contest, and a story was selected for the Journey Prize Anthology in 1998. Flesh & Blood, his first collection of stories, appeared the same year. Set in Black Rock, a Newfoundland mining community which suffers a fatal explosion, it mixes the miraculous and the mundane: characters drown and come back to life, find their true loves in blinding snowstorms, and receive visitations from angels. Some readers saw it as a novel told in stories; though Crummey originally had no intention of writing an entire book set in Black Rock, the collection became a patchwork quilt held together by place and the vocation of its characters, and bound by the author’s preoccupations: complex relationships between siblings and parents, and love, “that impractical, infuriating, enduring thing that makes a family so impractical, infuriating and enduring”.

Like David Adams Richards, who writes about contemporary rural New Brunswick, his depiction of harsh lives is illumined by compassion and rich language. His poetry has been described as generous, genuine, rich and warm, with some form of grace always present to redeem whatever hardships his characters endure. Both lyrical and political, Crummey shows the inevitability of loss and suffering in our lives without letting us lose sight of what’s worth loving, holding onto and fighting for.

Crummey claims that for a writer, he’s a “fairly stereotypical guy”. “Beer counts as a meal on weekends… I planned my holidays this year around the World Cup schedule. My emotions and I are barely on speaking terms… Poetry is the one place I can, honestly and with something approaching clarity, acknowledge my love for family, for friends and lovers, for the world I live in… I'm not a person to speak much about emotion, but I'd say this ‘love’ is the best of who I am… The poetry reveals more about me than I'm comfortable expressing in any other fashion.

“There are many things I think about when I'm writing: the music of the words, the pacing of a poem, form and structure… But regardless of the increasing importance I place on these things, they're just tools to help me speak from a place that would otherwise remain pretty much closed to the world.”