Michael Crummey begins and ends Under the Keel with some rather seedy stuff. I ask myself if all that was really worth writing, accepting that I am expressing a bit more disdain than perhaps I deserve. Particularly given all that was published by the House of Anansi Press back in 2013…so clearly someone thought it was indeed worth the effort.
Crummey’s book of poetry is one that I feel I could read a second time but I don’t need to. And I don’t really want to. I understood what Crummey was expressing, but it didn’t really offer me anything that I needed to learn or anything to aspire to. It served the same function as a picnic with some not-distant-enough cousins. Once is enough.
I appreciate poetry that explores the meaning of our more common and slightly shabby moments, but I want the meaning to poke through and it never does seem to with Crummey’s work. The poetry seems oblivious to its own lack of progression.
I will forgive Crummey for 98% of Under the Keel that I don’t want to read again on the merits of the 2% that is worth revisiting. Several of Crummey’s compositions are poetic without actually being poetry. What I mean is that the passages are descriptive, laden with images and even sharply created. But they should find themselves located in a dense novella and not in a collection of poetry.
Evidence that every poet and every poem will appeal to a select audience, I voice my appreciation for Crummey’s Leviathan. Not only do I appreciate it as an alternative vision (to my own or others’) of what the word “Leviathan” may symbolize, I think the poem is well-executed in its form and its concise delivery.
A military bunker submerged in the Hills during the war,
leviathan girth poured a fathom below the standard-
issue camouflage of blueberry scrub and alder
Poets like Crummey owe a great deal to William Wordsworth, who provided an enormous demonstration that poetry can and should be used to showcase experience and sentiment throughout society. That isn’t a comparison – only a setting of context.
I suspect that Crummey is capable of some really stellar writing. Indeed, I may delve into some of his fiction and non-fiction (see the Wikipedia entry) to see if I’m correct. But I’m not sure I really want any more of the poetry.