Poetry Month 2017: Budge Wilson, Michael Crummey, and Book Spine Poetry #3

Let me start off by saying that I’m not generally a poetry person. But I have been learning to appreciate it more, as well as figuring out what kind of poetry works best for me (which I’m beginning to think is the secret). Last year, I read poetry by Rita Joe and George Elliott Clarke, and what I liked best was the history and the emotion behind it. This year, I’ve learned that I like poems that tell stories.

After Swissair by Budge Wilson

In After Swissair, Budge Wilson tells the story of Swissair Flight 111, which crashed into the waters near Peggy’s Cove, Nova Scotia on September 2, 1998, killing all 229 people on board. The poems in this volume come from many different perspectives of the event itself and the aftermath. It is still very much in the hearts and minds of the people living in the area, as well as the families whose loved ones were lost in the crash.

The poem, Peggy’s Cove, left a lasting image in my mind of loved ones throwing mementos into the sea; flowers, teddy bears, and even golf balls. On one particularly blustery day, when it was too dangerous to get close to the ocean, firefighters formed a human chain so that the mementos could still be passed along.

Peggy’s Cove

For over a week the families

own the lighthouse

the enormous rocks

they cling to the people who live there

drink their tea

tell them their stories

weep at their kitchen tables

they sit or stand on the rocks

arms around one another

facing the horizon

their personal graveyard

some throw flowers into the sea

or teddy bears for the children


Golf Balls for Monte

Over the years

I’ve kept golf balls in my car

and sometimes

when passing the graveyard

I leave a ball in the grass beside his stone


It’s never alone

others have come before me

to leave behind the same strange flower


There are poems from the perspective of the fishers, the RCMP, the divers, the women baking up a storm, the military, and even some of the monstrous machines used in the search efforts.

The Grapple

We could see it from the shore

an enormous sinister insect

searching for prey


One of the parts I found very moving was when the author of the book was finally able, once again, to look at the ocean and see its beauty.


The sea received them

as gently as it could

it did not kill them


Almost 20 years later…

(I grew up hearing the comforting sound of the foghorn, so I particularly like this passage.)

September 2015


far off in the distance

the voice of a foghorn

always a sound full of questions

containing a sorrow and fear

but oddly a comfort

with a rise and fall

like the waves

sorrow and fear and a comfort

speaking together


Little Dogs by Michael Crummey

Anyone who has been following me for a while knows how much I love Michael Crummey’s novels. Now I can say I also love his poetry. Little Dogs is a collection of both his old and new poems, and many of them are like reading mini stories. In an interview with Carol Off on CBC Radio, the interviewer described them as being like short movies in your head. She had Crummey read out loud his short piece “Bread“, and I loved it so much I immediately went home and requested the book from the library. I strongly encourage you to listen to the interview just to hear that piece.

A lot of these poems are written about people and places Crummey has been hearing about his whole life; stories about his grandparents and their way of life. And some of them are more personal; ageing, memories of his parents, memories of childhood and adolescence, as well as life with his  family.

He writes about dogberries “looking festively persistent/beneath their crooked caps of snow.”

His poem about “manic chickadees” and their “needling racket” made me smile. He describes them as “an army of wind-up toys” whose “sole earthly purpose is reminding the unconscious world that morning’s not to be missed”.

I share with him a fond childhood memory of what we always called “the dump” – you just never knew what you were going to find there.

It was where ugly thrived.

Blight and galloping stench

prospered there in exile.


He writes about Elizabeth Bishop…

She grew up a curious creature,

writing as if she were certain

that something out there loves us all


And he writes about things more personal…

I came on in a few kitchens

where everything right went wrong –

it wasn’t love, it just kept me busy

until you came along.


I borrowed this collection from the library, but it’s definitely one I’d like to own.


Book Spine Poetry #3

Book Spine Poetry #1 and #2.

I have only one poem to offer you this year. The other one I created was deleted from my camera, and it’s been too long to think of recreating it. But here’s the one my daughter helped me with when we were visiting my parents in March. It was my favourite, anyway.

In the kitchen

a mountain of crumbs.

Do not say we have nothing.


How about you? Have you read any poetry this month? Or created any?

44 thoughts on “Poetry Month 2017: Budge Wilson, Michael Crummey, and Book Spine Poetry #3

  1. TJ @ MyBookStrings says:

    As I’ve been weeding out my book boxes over the past, I’ve been thinking about book spine poetry a lot. But I’ve never been able to come up with anything decent. I’ll check out the Crummey poem. Ever since listening to his Sweetland, I imagine his voice to be just like the narrator’s one (John Lee). Now I can’t wait to hear what Crummey actually sounds like.

    • Naomi says:

      Well, I just listened to a sample of John Lee, and I don’t think you’ll find Michael Crummey’s voice the same. However, he obviously knows how to read his own work! I hope you enjoyed listening to it!

      • TJ @ MyBookStrings says:

        You are right, the voices are very unlike each other. I was startled every time I heard the grandfatherly voice in Sweetland use bad language. 🙂 I’m glad you included the link to Crummey reading his poem in your review. I really liked listening to it.

  2. Rebecca Foster says:

    I very much like the sound of After Swissair. I, too, like poems that tell stories, often in response to tragedy. I can think of Christopher Reid’s A Scattering and Michel Faber’s Undying, both about a wife’s death from cancer, and Denise Riley’s Say Something Back, which is largely about her son’s sudden death.

    I’ve still never read anything by Michael Crummey, and would particularly like to get hold of his novels.

    I like your book spine poem! It’s almost like a haiku.

    • Naomi says:

      Thanks for all the recommendations!
      I would love to hear what you think of Michael Crummey – although I might not be able to forgive you if you don’t agree that he is wonderful 😉

  3. Jennifer D says:

    I share your Michael Crummey love!! He’s such a wonderful writer and person. I find his poetry can be a bit edgier than his novels – but I love it all!!

    • Naomi says:

      I haven’t seen a lot of book spine poetry around this year. I have found, after my flurry of it last year, that it seems a lot harder. Maybe others are experiencing the same thing!

  4. roughghosts says:

    I first came to know of Michael Crummey as a poet before he published novels or short stories. He was in town last fall and I heard him read from Little Dogs and share the stories behind some of the poems.So I not only have my own copy—it’s signed too!

      • roughghosts says:

        The family related pieces are my favourites. There is a prose poem called “Bread” that I especially like — inspired by one of his grandparents, I believe. Then there is a funny one called “Getting the Marriage into Bed” about his experience of becoming a sudden father when he married a woman who had three children!

      • Naomi says:

        “Bread” is one of my favourites, and the reason I decided to read the book. And with three kids, I could relate well to “Getting the Marriage into Bed”!

  5. AYearOfBooksBlog says:

    Love the spine poetry at the end of your blog – fun idea!! Poetry is not generally my genre of choice but I am trying to introduce some poetry and short stories into my reading this year!

  6. Grab the Lapels says:

    I read a collection of poems called Fat Girl by Jessie Carty, and mostly it seemed like the speaker was picking out parts of her body she didn’t like and talking about why she didn’t like them, or why they were unremarkable, or how she didn’t hate them when she was a kid because she was not yet self-conscious. It wasn’t good. I do tend to like more story-drive poems, too. The ones you’ve reviewed her definitely sound like collections I would want to read.

    • Naomi says:

      I’m glad these appeal to you!
      Hmm… the ones you’re describing from “Fat Girl” don’t sound like my kind of thing, either.

  7. Don Royster says:

    I try to make it to poems.com everyday. They post a new poem by a different poem everyday, and mostly it is contemporary poets. A may go a week before I find a poem I really like. I am also working my way through William Wordsworth’s Prelude and Frances Mayes’ wonderful introduction to poetry called “The Discovery of Poetry”. Molly Peacock also has a book out called, “How to Read a Poem…: and Start a Poetry Circle” Both Frances Mayes and Molly Peacock are excellent introduction to poetry for anyone who would like to be more comfortable with poetry.

    • Naomi says:

      I have long suspected that I would like Molly Peacock’s poems – ever since reading her book “Alphabetique”.
      Thanks for suggestions!

      • Don Royster says:

        She is a wonderful poet. In the book, she takes ten poems by other poets and discusses them. It’s where I came across Jane Kenyon’s lovely poem “Let Evening Come”.

  8. The Cue Card says:

    I must admit — I haven’t made time for poetry reading (I should), but I do love Michael Crummey since Sweetland. When I saw Crummey at an author event, he did read from his Little Dogs book and it was excellent. He recites his poetry so well. Though I want to read more of his novel backlist!

    • Naomi says:

      My next favourite of his novels is Galore, and then River Thieves. But Little Dogs is good to have around to pick up whenever you have a few minutes!

  9. buriedinprint says:

    Even though I haven’t heard that interview but that’s exactly how I ended up reading MC’s poetry; I heard him in interview with Shelagh Rogers on CBC and even though I thought I’d only like his prose was so smitten with his reading and the stories behind those poems that I immediatley requested the volume and then fell even harder for his storytelling. Now I’ll have to find the interview you’ve mentioned (I’m behind on my listening while catching up with library reading)!

    For poetry lately, I’ve been reading Tracy K Smith (which I also think you’d like, Life on Mars), Martha Harvey, and Gregory Scofield. Have you read Soraya Peerbye? I think she’s awesome and was just checking again yesterday to see if she’s had anything new published recently. (No. Sigh.) Your spine poetry makes me giggle. (And makes me want a cookie. What doesn’t.) And I love the sound of Budge Wilson’s volume too; that’s such a powerful image of the human chain. Poetry seems made for capturing such scenes.

    • Naomi says:

      I haven’t read poetry by any of those writers. But I’m not too surprised by that. It sounds like I might want to check out Soraya Peerbye and Tracy K Smith.
      I’m glad I made you giggle. And want a cookie. 🙂

  10. FictionFan says:

    I love that book spine poem! I think that’s the best one I’ve seen so far. I wish I liked poetry more than I do, but it’s very rare for one to move me, and I’ve never been good at reading collections. Well done for trying to expand your reading range!

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