Winnipeg Free Press—PRINT EDITION
Reviewed by Ariel Gordon
Michael Crummey's fourth novel, Sweetland, was
just nominated for a Governor General's Award for the Arts.
Buchans, Nfld., a mining town in the province's interior, Crummey
eventually left Newfoundland to pursue his education in Ontario and work
abroad. His first novel, River Thieves (2001), published the year he
moved back to St. John's, was nominated for the Giller Prize, the
Commonwealth Writers' Prize and the Books in Canada First Novel Award
while Galore (2009), was shortlisted for the 2011 IMPAC
Dublin Literary Award. Crummey was in Winnipeg last week and managed to
set aside some time for an interview.
his third novel,
Q: What do you want people to know about Sweetland?
A: I'd like people to know the novel is based on an
increasingly common situation facing small fishing communities in
Newfoundland who find themselves in crisis as a result of the cod
moratorium. In the most extreme cases, they are taking a government
package to leave their homes as a group. Which, as you can imagine, is
not a clean or simple process. I'd like people to know the gorgeous
cover art is by a Newfoundland artist named Michael Pittman. Google the
guy. Check out his website. I'd like people to know that the novel is
funny in spots. Honest.
Q: You've spent much of your
career telling the story of Newfoundland and Labrador in the midst of a
resurgence of award-winning writing by Newfoundlanders and Labradorites.
And yet, there are those 'Newfie jokes,' which seek to label residents
as hopelessly and even deliberately backward/rural. And then there's
your statement, midway through the second chapter of Sweetland, that
says "Half the books supposedly set in Newfoundland were nowhere Queenie
recognized and she felt insulted by their claim on her life. They all
sounds like they were written by townies, she liked to say." So, what is it that you're trying to do with your books about aspects of Newfoundland and Labrador culture and history?
A: Jeez b'y. Where to start with that?
There's an awful lot going on in that question. Part of what I've been
trying to do from the time I started writing is to honour the world my
parents were born into, and the world that existed in Newfoundland
before their time. And, consciously or not, I think I have been writing
about that world in order to refute the 'Newfie joke.' My sense of those
people, of what they accomplished by simply surviving in those
circumstances, speaks to a resourcefulness and ingenuity and
stubbornness that is the polar opposite of the stereotypical Newfie (can
I say here how much I despise that word and all it represents?). First
and last, I am trying to write honestly about the place that made me
what I am, to present it in all its glory and wonder and spectacular
awfulness. But I've always struggled with a sense that, at best, my take
on Newfoundland is an approximation of the real world. And I've read
plenty of books about Newfoundland that aren't even that close. There's
always some tension between the world as it is and the world as it's
presented in any kind of art. Through Queenie's dismissal, I was wanting
to give the people I'm supposedly representing in Sweetland a chance to
give me and my book the proverbial finger.
Q: Sweetland is your 10th book in
since Arguments With Gravity was published in 1996. What are your goals
for your writing now, as compared to your first books?
A: To be honest, I can barely remember
what my goals were for my writing when I first started publishing books.
Getting a book published was the goal, I think. There was something so
magical in the notion of having an honest-to-goodness,
buy-it-in-the-store book with my name on it, that I never really thought
much past that point. These days I feel like my goals are more about
the kind of book I'm writing. I want to be constantly pushing myself
beyond my limitations, to be a better writer at the end of a book than I
was when I started it.
Of course, there's also
the whole issue of what happens when the book is out in the world that I
think about now. And my goal (it's more of a hope than a goal, I guess)
is that the book does well enough that I won't have to get a job at a
corner store to make ends meet.
Q: Have you ever been to Winnipeg? What have you heard?
A: I have been to Winnipeg at
least half a dozen times for the writers' festival and other events.
Love it here. In some ways I see a similarity to Newfoundland in the
sense that people who don't know it often have a knee-jerk negative
notion of the place. And underneath that stereotype is an incredibly
rich cultural community. When I think of Winnipeg I think of great
writers and music and movies, of Miriam Toews and David Bergen and John
K. Samson and Guy Maddin and Maurice Mierau. And the cold. I think of
the cold. There's no way around that.
Ariel Gordon is a Winnipeg writer.
Wednesday, October 29, 2014
Tuesday, October 28, 2014
(Clockwise from top left): Tanis MacDonald, me, Sonnet L'Abbe at the Kava Bean Commons in Kitchener, ON.
* * *
A few pics from Saturday night's reading in Kitchener/Waterloo, which I think should be called Kitchoo to eliminate any confusion. Waterer?
I had the great good fortune of having the support of Clare Hitchens of WLUP, who was the one who suggested I add a K/W reading to my itinerary in the first place and then found me a place to stay. Tanis and Sonnet then agreed to be added to the bill.
Unfortunately, we had to switch venues five hours before the event. But with Clare's help, we managed to find a great alternate, the Kava Bean Commons, whose manager not only agreed to re-open at 6:30 pm (after closing for the day at 3:00 pm) but who was both cheerful and appreciative whilst doing so.
I'm so very glad that we didn't just cancel the event. I would have felt so...forlorn. Instead, I got to meet other poets and be in community. Which is best-case-scenario for a bookish person...
Monday, October 27, 2014
|All images from Point Pelee National Park, ON. October 23, 2014.|
So poet/publisher Dawn Kresan took me to her local, Point Pelee National Park, which included a boardwalk/marsh walk, a forest walk, and a beachcomb.
Beyond the marsh portion of the walk, we had the place largely to ourselves. And it was good to walk & talk poetry, to point out mushrooms, to kneel on the beach and look at stones.
I found any number of bones on the beach in addition to all the plastic junk. So much plastic junk.
And then we rushed home, driving in and amongst all the farms and greenhouses and farm stands, back to Dawn's, where we changed into outfits suitable for the BookFest Windsor event, and that was that for my time in Windsor.
Saturday, October 25, 2014
Photo credits: Myself, Dawn Kresan, and Sanja Frkovic. That's Aimee Parent Dunn, Palimpsest's publisher, in the bottom left...
* * *
Here are a few photos from BookFest Windsor event on October 23, Windsor's Small Presses: A Celebration with Authors and Publishers.
I represented Palimpsest Press at the mic and had the great pleasure of meeting Aimee Parent Dunn, Palimpsest's new publisher, and then being introduced by her. Other presses participating at the event included Rampike, Biblioasis, Black Moss Press, and Cranberry Tree Press.
Of course, I kicked over my waterbottle just as she finished reading my bio and so I was the tiniest bit mortified. And so I was worse than normal: louder with bonus wisecracks. But I had great fun and I think the audience did too...
It should go without saying but: it was great to get the chance to read with Susan Holbrook, Rosalind Knight, Mary Ann Mulhern, and Chris Turner.
A panel discussion on aspects of small press publishing followed the reading, which was good. And the gin & tonic I slurped down at Vermouth that followed the panel was even better.
Thanks to BookFest Windsor for having me. And to Palimpsest, for the books. And to Dawn Kresan, former publisher, for letting me colonize her spare bedroom...
Monday, October 20, 2014
* * *
It should go without saying, but: I'm VERY much looking forward to working with John Terpstra & Giuliana Casimirri, who is the Urban Forest Coordinator at the Hamilton Naturalists' Club & an environmental sociologist...
Wednesday, October 15, 2014
* * *
On my last night in Victoria, I read at Russell Books with Julie Paul, Jane Eaton Hamilton, and Arleen Pare.
I went first. After a pre-reading meal at nearby Be Love with the other poets but minus the fictioneer.
(Yes, it was a vegetarian restaurant. Yes, I resisted the imperative even as I dabbed my seedy cracker in cashew cheese and a dark figgy spread.)
My thanks to Russell's and event coordinator Venessa Herman, to the other readers and the robust audience. And also to Yvonne, who passed me a Fisherman's Friend midway through Julie's reading, right when I needed it. (Tickly throat! Blargh!)
I'm home now and have washed my trip clothes. And unpacked my bag-of-books, and even used a bay leaf from the bouquet I picked from a tree. (PICKED FROM A TREE.)
But it was great fun to spend some time with BC poets, to dabble in the ocean and look at big mossy trees.
Wednesday, October 08, 2014
|All photos Frances King Park, Victoria, BC. October 4, 2014.|
So last weekend Yvonne Blomer packed up her son and her son's friend and her dog and me—her visiting poet—and took us to Frances/King Park.
And as I crossed the highway and entered the park, chatting with her husband Rupert, I glanced around and went, "Whoa."
Even though I'd thought I was used to the difference between Winnipeg and Victoria—we have many of the same shrubs, for instance, it's just that Victoria's are 12 feet tall—this was something.
I'm used to my young-ish aspen forest or our elderly 100-year-old elm canopy, so the massive, old-growth Douglas Fir trees, some of which are apparently 500-years-old, snagged me.
Like an outflung branch. Right in the eye.
(I liked this tree in particular because it was so moss-encrusted and fern-draped that you couldn't actually see any of its bark...)