Understories is an exploration of things visible mostly to the inner eye and memory, things below the surface. The book began as a riff on Mark Strand’s brilliant title, “Planet of the Lost Things,” and it is an exploration of loss, but also of recovery through memory and language. The first part, “A Perfect Afternoon” follows an unfulfilled romance through significant moments and years to elegy for what never was and for the loved one himself. The romance is juxtaposed with epiphanic moments of reflection, joy and dismay, perceptive growth points. The second section, “Functional Families,” considers the theme of family, especially mothers, and moves through varying visions of family to a sort of resolution though the poet’s mothering of her own son. The third section, “Going the Distance for Poetry,” focuses on poetry and art, some of the connections that make the poetic quest possible, literary, artistic and natural (looking at mountains, listening to trees). The final section, “Lost Cities,” looks at New York, Toronto, Florence, ancient Rome, Mayan Mexico through the lens of history and memory, alternating sorrow for loss with belief in the power of poetry to preserve. Once of the themes of Understories is “where does the story end?” and the book takes the long view, writing beyond the apparent ending.
Forms: a lot of elegy. This is a book where ghosts walk. Ekphrastic poetry. Some nature poetry. Michael Crummey says he tends to write mostly story poetry. There are a lot of stories in this book.The poet condenses years into a few lines.
Formal forms: free verse with a little prose poetry (very little).