Quill and Quire

REVIEWS

« Back to
Book Reviews

Hard Light

by Michael Crummey

Michael Crummey’s Hard Light is a brave and ambitious follow up to Crummey’s first book, the award-winning Arguments with Gravity. Rather than attempting to repeat what made Arguments with Gravity an impressive, eclectic collection of poems, Crummey attempts a more coherent and interconnected work.

Hard Light opens with what Crummey calls “32 little stories” inspired by tales told to him by his father’s generation of Newfoundlanders. The middle poems arise from the diaries of Captain John Froude (1863-1939) who worked as a fisherman, sealer, and miner before spending a number of years travelling the globe as a seaman on tall ships and steamers. Crummey concludes the collection with a series of poems resulting from a trip on the Labrador coastal ferry. And so, Hard Light is a book with a strong sense of place and time. It establishes itself along with Gaff Topsails and The Shipping News as one among a recent series of books set largely in Newfoundland.

Where Crummey’s work differs is that it is so deeply rooted in the ordinary experience of ordinary people, and the particular geographical minutiae of that beautiful province, that it becomes ordinary and even dull at times – some of the poems read like lists. There are narrative passages that lack tension in detail and life in the telling. And there are moments in the writing that made me cringe, for example: “his stomach aches like a tooth that should be pulled,” or when he describes the gutting of a fish: “the head taken off clean, as if you were castrating a young bull.”

On the other hand, there is much here to please the lover of great poetry, with many fine poems herein. It would be very disappointing indeed to see a poet of Crummey’s obvious gifts simply repeating himself.