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Arguments with Gravity

by Michael Crummey

Michael Crummey’s first book of poems, Arguments with Gravity is broken into five sections, each introduced by a contemporary epigram that encapsulates the poet’s concerns and acknowledges his influences. Unfortunately, everyone else is alive in the literary room that Michael Crummey occupies and there is a little too much shameless schmoozing here.

That is not to say that I did not like this collection. Flash fires of brilliant lines occur throughout. This young poet has voice. He can turn a phrase with the best. “She trusts herself implicitly/the way a sleeper trusts the heart/to continue on its own” is lovely, simple, summative, and unselfconsciously metaphorical. His line, “then the wet carton under my arm” captures in seven words exactly what it is to buy then carry milk home. “The long complicated silence buried in/the sloppy growl of the engine,” is perhaps the best grass-cutting image I have read. And his description of two men fishing: “the rhythmic full-arm jig/as if they were unsuccessfully trying to/start an engine” has the sort of dead-on comic accuracy I love to find in poets I prefer.

However, the central section almost spoils the whole. “Part of It” opens with a quotation from Sharon Olds, “Don’t speak to me about/politics. I’ve got eyes man.” And I find myself wishing he had taken her advice. It is in these polemical pieces that he loses me. He does not achieve the wise rage of other political poets. In taking on the theme of death squads, assassination, and the violence in Central America he whines, lists, and accuses without achieving compassion for the suffering. The poems in this section are rhetorical, preachy, propagandistic, bombastic, and distasteful. They seldom evolve beyond statement.

Otherwise, Arguments with Gravity is a rich and rewarding collection with too many pluses to quibble over whether it is worthy of high recommendation. Michael Crummey promises to be a major talent. I just wish he had waited a little longer until the outrage at the centre of this book had aged into wisdom.