Crush Depth

Michael Spence


This collection of lyric poems offers a unique look at the shared, but very different experiences of life in the Navy for father and son.

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This collection of lyric poems offers a unique look at the shared, but very different experiences of life in the Navy for father and son. The poems form a three-part narrative of life aboard a naval ship, the father and son’s month-long trip to Australia, and the son coming to understand how he has been shaped by his father’s experiences. Poet Michael Spence shows a range of poetic technique, deftly matching form to content and historical account to emotional reflection.

Michael Spence’s indelible portrait of Navy life confronts the morality of the sea, while never shying from its seamier aspects: port-town prostitutes, grainy porn projected on a bed sheet, brutality, mortality. Beneath the code of military conduct lie the deep-seated mysteries of human conduct and our relationships with others—in this case, the relationship between father and son. Crush Depth memorializes the poet’s submariner father, a fellow seaman and a veteran of the Second World War. Spence’s lyrics resonate like steel hulls under intense emotional pressure, their assured lines haunted by patriarchal silences and love. A heartbreaking collection!

—David Yezzi, executive editor of
The New Criterion

For years I’ve admired Michael Spence’s technical expertise, his preoccupation with prosody, with sound, with old forms, and here, in his third book, he combines both skill and maturity to give us more than just a random collection; this is as whole a work as I’ve seen in a long time. “My recruiter had said / The camaraderie of the sailors / And sights I’d see would give me tales / For home.” These are the poems of a man gone bravely back to re-live the experience of military service and discover the larger truths beneath the tale, the ones at “crushing depth.” It also helps him discover what lay behind his father’s service, both as WWII submariner, and in the longer service of fatherhood. “To survive you must find something to cling to,” he says in one poem. Just so. These are poems we all can swim toward. Beautifully made, beautifully true, they will hold us all.

—Samuel Green, Washington State Poet Laureate

I used to think that young men of my generation who had to go into the military were unlucky. But reading Michael Spence’s new collection of poetry, I’m reminded of what Anna Ahkmatova said of young Joseph Brodsky who had been exiled to Siberia: “This will be the making of him.” I am impressed, reading the poems in Crush Depth, at how lucky Spence was. His time in the Navy was the making of him, and these poems, which also remember his father’s naval service in World War II, are the proof. This is a book unlike any other in contemporary poetry, and it is Michael Spence’s best to date.

—Mark Jarman, Vanderbilt University




Darken Ship:
Below Decks
Anchored Out
The Landlocked Sea
Class Portrait
The Safety Officer’s Account: Letter, Report, Journal
Addendum to the Safety Officer’s Account
Darken Ship
The Right Way to Escape from a Sinking Ship

A Snapshot of My Father from the War
The Little Penguins of Prince Phillip Island
The Fig Curtain of Atherton
A Cairns Idyll
A Southern Vintage: Mount Aitken Vineyard, South Australia, 1986
The Darter and the Dace, the Way I Wish He’d Told It
Palawan Passage
The Desert Pinnacles
Waking Late

The Unbroken Code:
Nisqually Bay
The Paddle
My Father Washing Dishes (I)
My Father Washing Dishes (II)
An Engineering Problem
The Bayou Drive-In
The Unbroken Code
Crush Depth
Father Gathers His Breath

About the Author


Michael Spence served four years as a naval officer aboard the USS John F. Kennedy after graduating with a degree in creative writing from the University of Washington in 1974. Spence lives in Tukwila, Washington, and has spent the last 25 years as a public-transit bus driver in the Seattle area. He has contributed poems to more than a dozen journals and an anthology of northwestern poets. Spence’s previous collections include The Spine and Adam Chooses.


Discussing naval life through his verse, he does well in capturing the emotion along with the day-to-day life he lived. Crush Depth is original, fresh, and educational, and highly recommended.

Midwest Book Review, September 2009

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