By Michael Crummey
As is always the case with Michael Crummey, his writing in “Passengers” is multiple, enriching multiple readings and open to inspiring who knows what theater script or music album.
As the title suggests, it’s about travel: viewpoints, transition, and both the transience and grounding of human experience.
With the first half of the volume, Crummey has set himself an intriguing task, a tribute to Tomas Tranströmer (1931-2015), the Swedish poet who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2001.
Thus, Crummey places it “on George Street // Someone’s called 911 and the crowd is waiting / for the arrival of the police, the ambulance sirens / to screw the lid of the night all the harder… »
And “on the Dover Rift // Two continents collided along this line. / They exchanged insurance information while / waiting for the police. Experts have arrived to / assess the damage. Lawyers floated around / like a boom trying to contain an oil spill. / On counsel’s advice, neither party admits wrongdoing. // 2. // Two continents have collided along this line. / One was recently widowed, the other / had been arguing all night with her husband.
And “on the Gaff Topsails // The wind crosses this bare plateau like a marching medieval army”.
And “on the tip of the Great Northern Peninsula // Low hills submerged in threadlike tuckamore beds – / day-drunk and fainting dwarf spruce and juniper / on their boarding mattresses. / There is no way to go through the mess. / They have internalized the cruelty of time / and in their hearts they believe // that time is their fault.
Tranströmer often worked in short, exact stanzas and Crummey usually follows this precise formatting of one or two sentences. But other pieces read more like prose, like “On the Labrador Strait, near Anse Amour // The pit is eight meters in diameter, the remains of the ceremonial fires / blacken its outer edges. Distant headlands pretend not to watch you/unload this ship’s ballast. They know what’s out there. They saw that he was buried in another age, with the same indifference. Almost/dark by the time you uncover the body. A young boy in a shroud / made of bark. He is lying face down, a rock slab placed on his back for reasons/beyond your knowledge. The slab is too big to be lifted by a single pair of hands. Like / sorrow for a dead child.
It’s visceral, and it’s visual. Crummey’s word choices are always concise, fresh and appropriate. Accordions, for example, “are steam engines with ivory dentures / they chew with their mouths open / whistle through a Sunday dinner of jogs and reels…”
In its next two sections, a personal travelogue from Northern Europe unfolds in “The Dark Woods”, while the demonically playful, brash and damned “Devilskin” includes “Lucifer at Sobey’s Square” and “Lucifer at Health Emerging Sciences”; the titular “Devilskin” (quoting the DNE, “a joke boy”) opens “We’re soldiers now, we hurry. Baker’s dozen. Thirteen lucky. The faces on/us are filled with something like terror, but it’s only the camera we’re afraid of. / Stand straight again, as we were ordered. // Come to the other side of the island to sign up and they took us to a studio in / Water Street to draw our image, before we go abroad. / Fight the Germans in France. A lark, we imagine.
Full Moon of Fear and Desire
By Melanie Power
McGill-Queen’s University Press
$17.95 104 pages
Generously setting the table with his themes and talent, Power’s first poem in “Full Moon” is “Ode to McCain’s Deep ‘N Delicious Cake // Spuds for / the Powers are Iike a good Burgundy / for the French: no meal was complete / without them, and the dessert was better / served from the freezer…”
In “Your Past Selves Assist / Your Birthday Party // And your guests are terrible. Look, they ate / the last slice of tarte tatin! Of course / they didn’t think to bring anything. Either / they bring deep wine and a bag of Lay’s.
In “Basel Correspondent // Throughout my high school trip to Europe, / I was sure I’d bump into you – // like a continent was the mall, / And I’d spot you at the food court… “
While changing situation and setting, she also plays with poetic construction, as in “If you answer yes to any / of the following questions // Do your favorite protagonists end up on their own?” Wasn’t the inaugural heartache of your life yours? Did you wait? Have you ever bound / to the moon? Do you know by heart the statistics/about marriages that end in divorce? Did you joke about them at engagement parties? Are you no longer / invited? As the lines scroll down the page, the words gradually separate, falling apart.
In other pieces, she tours the streets and cemeteries of Montreal, references the movie “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind,” and includes another culinary ode, this time to a “Tunnock’s Caramel Log.”