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SPEAKING TERMS: A REBUTTAL


For a writer — at least according to the people who know me best — I'm not very observant. Highlights in your hair? Right over my head. You've painted the kitchen since my last visit? Well, now that you mention it...

In more ways than I'm comfortable with, I'm a fairly stereotypical guy. Beer counts as a meal on weekends ("It's practically bread," a drinking buddy of mine once observed). I planned my holidays this year around the World Cup schedule. My emotions and I are barely on speaking terms. And yes, I write poetry.

Most of my friends don't understand it either.

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Dennis Lee wrote somewhere, "The only words are lives." I have a feeling this isn't true, but would be in a perfect world.

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There's something in us that wants the writers we love to measure up to their writing. Tom Wayman has written about his disillusionment and shock when he discovered that one of his political and poetic heroes, Pablo Neruda, was less a man than his poetry led Wayman to expect. It may be a case of self-delusion or deliberate misrepresentation that allows Neruda to "come off" so well on the page and so poorly in real life, but I don't think it's that simple.

Poetry is the one place I can, honestly and with something approaching clarity, acknowledge my love for family, for friends and lovers, for the world I live in. Which, it seems to me, is more or less what Neruda was up to. I'm not a person to speak much about emotion (see above), but I'd say this "love" is the best of who I am. And in this peculiar way, the poetry reveals more about me than I'm comfortable expressing in any other fashion, at the same time as it inevitably distorts a reader's perception of the person doing the writing.

My friends are right about me, even though the poems might suggest otherwise. Poetry temporarily frees me from everything that the people closest to me know to be true; although in the end, sadly, it doesn't make me any less of an arsehole.

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There are many things I think about when I'm writing: the music of the words, the pacing of a poem, form and structure. The better I become, the more time I spend on these technical sides of the process. But regardless of the increasing importance I place on these things, I can't see them as an end in themselves. They're just tools to help me speak from a place that would otherwise remain pretty much closed to the world. To the extent that anyone reads the stuff, poetry is a private conversation carried on in public.

The most positive reviews of my first book (there were negative reviews as well, but we won't go there) described the poetry with words like "generosity," "genuine," "rich," "warmth and intimacy," "compassionate," "grace." One reviewer talked about my "winning attentiveness to life" (which, I'm sure, is a hell of a shock to my closest friends). I don't have a particularly conscious phliosophy that guides my writing, but a couple of lines from BC poet Tim Bowling probably come as close to describing what I hope to achieve as anything I could say myself:

        "I want to face the world with so much grace that the world would always know my love of it."



Michael Crummey's works copyright © to the author.


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