Engaging, tender and astute, Douglas Walbourne-Gough’s debut poetry collection Crow Gulch lends its attention to a working-class community formerly located to the west of Corner Brook, Newfoundland. The author, himself descended from Crow Gulch paper mill workers, uses compact, dense language to sketch his portrait of a place settled in the 1920s by mostly migrants, many of whom had Mi’kmaw ancestry. The people of Crow Gulch would eventually be relocated, sometimes forcibly, by the Newfoundland government in the 1970s and 1980s.
Crow Gulch shows us a poet with a distinct style and point of view. Notably, many of the poems pack fragment sentences, often lists, next to each other. The result is a clipped tone and a tense atmosphere. In “Escape,” this technique underscores the bleak conditions faced by Crow Gulch’s residents: “No way to heat this house at night. / Winter mornings, your breath gone / vapour. Frost on the bunk above you, / on the ceiling, pray the firewood’s / not too damp.” The same structure is used in “Ella Josephine Campbell,” a poem written for the author’s grandmother, to whom Crow Gulch is dedicated. Here, the poet pays tribute to the strength of an ancestor who “made it work, / had to,” without compromising the complexity of her life, at once difficult and joyous: “Lived for a dance on the weekend, game / of Bingo during the week. Draped in her / favourite sweater, blue-green swirls on black / three times her size.”