Vancouver Island University hosted Michael Crummey as the guest Gustafson speaker on October 23 from 2-4pm.
Many writers, teachers, students, and Nanaimo residents showed up for the preliminary reading of the poet and author. Crummey was scheduled to give a lecture the following evening about declining interest in poetry in today’s literary world.
Joy Gugeler, a Creative Writing professor at VIU and past editor for some of Crummey’s writings, introduced him as an “ambidextrous writer” and a writer who has grown from the young author that she met and has achieved much “fame and fortune,” to which Crummey asked “Fortune?” causing the whole crowd to laugh.
Crummey was born in Buchans, a small mining town in the interior of Newfoundland, and said that he started writing when he was 17. Crummey admited he was very shy as a young man and didn’t tell people that he was a writer until much later in his career. When asked at the end of the afternoon if he ever had a hard time doing public readings, Crummey said he did not actually stand up and read any of his work until the age of 27. Listening to Crummey present some of his published work now, it is hard to see that he ever had a problem with public speaking.
Crummey has a very relaxed reading style and included jokes and personal anecdotes in the presentation that were not part of the texts. When Gugeler pointed out that this reading was a teaser for the lecture to take place the next night, Crummey confessed “I actually went to the bookstore and bought one of my old books just to have some variety. I find the notion of a two hour teaser for the larger presentation quite intimidating,” said Crummey.
Crummey started the reading with a few short stories from his collection titled Hard Light, which Crummey explained was a collection of stories he decided to write because of his father’s many stories. “My dad was a great story-teller,” Crummey said.
Some of the titles from Hard Light that Crummey chose to read were “32 little stories,” “Old Wives Tales,” and “Tennessee Waltz.”
“32 Little Stories” is the first story within the anthology and is a comedic tale of Crummey’s father, Arthur, and a French book that was taught in school back when he was a boy growing up in Western Bay Newfoundland. “It’s a goddamn silly language anyway, and the whole school laughed at it” was the way Crummey’s father described the book when he was forced to read some of the words out loud. In the short story, Arthur then takes the book out into the bush after school and in a fit of frustration “stepped back three paces and shot the fucking thing.” This was the kind of realistic and relatable humor that ran through many of Crummey’s readings.
“Tennessee Waltz” includes a recipe for dandelion beer, and in the notes on the yield of the recipe it is listed that “a glass full will straighten a crooked spine” and “five will have your neighbour dancing around the kitchen with a broom singing the only line of the Tennessee Waltz he knows.”
Crummey also chose readings from his novel Galor, a novel about two families across generations set in an out port village.
Crummey finished his readings with some poems from his new book of poetry titled Under the Keel. The poems that he read included “Fox on the Funk Islands,” “Girls,” “The Stars after John’s Homebrew,” and “Getting the Marriage to Bed.”
The last poem, “Getting the Marriage to Bed,” ended with the line “you have less time than you think,” ending the whole presentation on a somber note in much the same format as the tales within Hard Light. Many of his stories in Hard Light, Crummey explained, were thick with humor but ended with a darker message in much the same theme that his father had told his stories.
Crummey writes much of his published works set in Newfoundland, lending to the rich description of the land’s history for contemporary readers to learn and engage with the culture of the time.
When asked by an audience member how Crummey’s family had taken his choice to become a writer, Crummey said “I kept it secret for a long time. When I did finally tell them, my folks were really supportive.” His parents did have some fear because even though he “worked hard at it, there was no money,” said Crummey. Still, listening to the accomplished writer he is in the present day gave an outline for how far writers can go in Canadian literature to the members of the audience.
Crummey’s books can be purchased online and at the VIU bookstore.