After hearing Michael Crummey read two poems from this collection on “The Next Chapter”, I rushed to find a copy of Under the Keel.
(Rushing is relative, mind you; I am chronically behind in listening to bookish podcasts: this interview actually aired in September 2013.)
Some of the poems could be set anywhere, like the pair of “Girls” and “Boys” which succinctly capture the sharply recognizable universals.
“Half-grown, we were living our life by halves,
our dreams were vacant rooms we didn’t own
and roamed in silence, shadows behind dark glass,
our mute hearts a mystery to ourselves.”
Some have specific settings: Fong’s restaurant, a flight to Boston, the Overfalls, the Mud Hole, the Funk Islands.
Some settle easily into my mental map of Newfoundland (based in books and calendar photographs once bought for relatives overseas):
“we baits a hook on a string sometimes
hauls them birds around
like a busted kite
Jimmy’s mother says
it’s a sin to be at it
god’s creatures too she tells him”
Lighthouses and fishing boats, priests and cliff-faces, forty-ouncers and seagulls: the scene is set.
Shift in perspective careens.
Readers not only consider an abandoned Datson in the woods, but consider the view of the woods regarding its presence.
And readers not only considering the humans’ perspective on a fox who was not expected to survive the winter, but the fox’s view of the people, “an inconsequential riddle / on the margins of her concern”.
The pieces which bookend the third segment (“Patience” and “Birding, Cape St. Mary’s”) recall the pieces in Hard Light.
“How he strung a rope thick as a man’s wrist from his back door to the tower to lead him blind through the fog and the black, clung to it in wind that could strip the shoes from your feet.”
The works feel intimate and revealing, but they bring everyday and familiar experiences into a keener light.
Other readers who have enjoyed Michael Crummey’s fiction may want to rush for his verse too.