Michael Crummey explores family, love and longing for Newfoundland in new poetry collection 'Little Dogs'
There is no doubting the place from whence he came.
Newfoundland and Labrador have always featured prominently in Michael Crummey's writing. His 2014 novel, Sweetland, is about a small island community struggling with the idea of resettling on the mainland. His novel Galore begins with a whale washing up on the shore of a fictional outport town called Paradise Deep.
Crummey's latest book, Little Dogs: New and Selected, shows how long he has been exploring his home province. It has been 20 years since Crummey published his first collection, Arguments With Gravity. Little Dogs starts there and gathers poems from the past two decades — including some new ones written for this collection.
Carol Off: We talk a lot about how the poems deal with people. People in your life. But they deal, as does your fiction, so much with place — with Newfoundland and Labrador. The people and the place are inseparable in so many ways. What is the need to write about that place? Is it nostalgia? Is it pride? Where does that come from?
Michael Crummey: I'm hoping it's not nostalgia in the negative sense. For me, there's definitely always been a real sense that my parents came from a world that was completely different from the world I came from — because they grew up in outports. My father fished with his father from the age of 9 until he was about sixteen. And I grew up in a mining town in central Newfoundland, post-Confederation. So the world that my parents were born into was what Newfoundland had been, more or less unchanged, for a couple hundred years. And in the space of their lifetimes that world has almost completely disappeared. They always felt like living links to this world that I only had access to through their stories. I grew up hearing those stories and so when I started writing, of course, one of the first things I did was I started writing some of those stories down. I guess partly as a way to honor the world that they came out of and also to try to find a place in it for myself because I did feel separate from it, given the time and place that I was raised.
CO: There's one poem, What's Lost is the title, and you're writing about the land your father once knew — the harbours and the coves, and the clapboard houses. You end with your father saying this: "That was 50 years ago, as a warning, wanting me to understand that what's forgot is lost, and most of this, he cannot even recall forgetting." What do you fear might be lost, be forgotten, about that Newfoundland and Labrador?
MC: Bernice Morgan says that she writes about that world, "the gone world of Newfoundland," because it would be such a waste. People sacrifice so much just to get by. To not remember that, and to not remember what was asked of them to make a life in Newfoundland, it would be such a waste to forget. Everybody, I think, has that in their own families. This sense of wanting to remember where they've come from and to remember the people who have made them who they are. And in Newfoundland, it feels like a cultural phenomenon that we've gone through in the past two generations. There's been a huge sea change in the place that means we are going to be different on the other side of it. It's a big question, I think, of how much of who Newfoundlanders were comes forward with us after that change? I'm interested in asking that question.
This interview was edited for length and clarity.
To hear the full interview, including Crummey reading selections from Little Dogs, please click on the Listen audio link above.