Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

The Entitled Interview with Michael Crummey

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Michael Crummey

Newfoundland author Michael Crummey is an award-winning writer in multiple genres — both his prose and poetry have become some of the best-loved titles in Canadian literature. Just last year he was awarded the inaugural Writers' Trust Fellowship, celebrating his body of work.

This spring, Michael's fans are in for a treat, with the publication of the intriguingly-titled Little Dogs: New and Selected Works (House of Anansi).

We talk to Michael as part of our Entitled series, where we ask writers about how they come up with their titles, what a great title ought to do and their own favourite titles.

Michael tells us about how Little Dogs got its name, the rarity of a truly great title and the numerical title that almost was.

Open Book:

Tell us about the title of your newest book and how you came to it.

Michael Crummey:

Little Dogs takes its name from one of the newest poems in my New & Selected. I recently had a hotel room overlooking a fenced graveyard in Cork that was used as a dog park by locals. All the dogs I saw there were ridiculous miniatures of one breed or other, and they took themselves very very seriously as they went about their fiercely ridiculous bit of business, pawing the grass and barking at shadows. The poem I wrote is about our lives, about life in general. But those dogs also seemed like an obvious metaphor for the little poems I've written over the last twenty-odd years and Little Dogs the perfect name for the book.


What, in your opinion, is most important function of a title?


At their best, titles not only capture the essential something at the heart of a book but also invite a reader in by being enigmatic or authoritative or devastatingly clever. A title like that, in my experience, is a rare creature. Mostly you hope a title doesn't make the eyes of prospective readers roll so far back in their heads they feel nauseous.


What is your favourite title that you've ever come up with and why? (For any kind of piece, short or long.)


I have always struggled with titles. On occasion I have settled on something that in hindsight makes my eyes roll so far back in my head I feel nauseous.

I think Galore is the one I'm happiest with, despite the fact I've always thought of one word titles as a bit of a copout. Galore is a celebration of the remarkable trove of folklore — the knowledge and stories and traditions and superstitions — of Newfoundland. And Galore has the word “lore” built right in. It also suggests the abundance of the tradition I was working with. Galore is also, of course, an anagram for Al Gore who was in the news a lot at the time and I thought there might be some subconscious overlap in the minds of casual shoppers. No hard data on whether this was actually the case or not.


What about your favourite title as a reader, from someone else's work?


It's hard to separate a title from the impact a book makes on your life. But I do remember One Hundred Years of Solitude and Love in the Time of Cholera striking and staying with me for years before I got around to reading either novel. And once I did, the titles seemed the perfect embodiment of the stories they represented.


Did you consider any other titles for your current book and if so what were they? Why did you decide to go with the title you eventually picked?


When I first started thinking about a Selected, I wanted it to coincide with my 50th. It seemed like a nice round number to hang a selected poems on. There's an epigraph from Leonard Cohen about being born fifty years ago “to raise my voice this high, and no higher.” I wrote a new poem for the book called “50.” There's an old piece from Hard Light called “Fifties.” There are other references to the number scattered throughout as well and for a while I privately thought of the book as Fifties. But the arrival of Little Dogs immediately displaced that notion.


What are you working on now?


I am working on a novel-in-verse about a washed-up teen pop singer trying to survive the zombie apocalypse. Working title: Flesh in the Pan. Might be too on-the-nose though. Open to other suggestions.

Michael Crummey is an author of fiction and poetry. He has published four collections of poetry: Under the Keel, Salvage, Hard Light and Arguments with Gravity. His novels include Sweetland, a finalist for the Governor General’s Literary Award, a national bestseller, and a Globe and Mail Best Book of the Year; Galore, winner of the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize for Best Book; and River Thieves, a finalist for the Scotiabank Giller Prize. He lives in St. John’s, Newfoundland.

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