Joseph Massey

I was born and raised in refinery towns outside of Philadelphia and in Dover, Delaware―flat, two-dimensional terrain. Strip malls, torch towers and graveyards were the most prominent inhabitants. In Dover I lived in the shadow of a NASCAR racetrack. There was always a sense of things falling over me, into each other―no room to breathe, let alone speak.

When I moved to Humboldt County, California, eight years ago, I was confronted with a landscape that was―and still in many ways is―utterly foreign to me. The landscape is open―gapingly so―ocean on one side, mountains and hills on the other―and perpetually shifting in its timbre, in its quality of light. For a few years I felt like I had come down with vertigo; I was so jolted by this place with its nearly psychedelic three-dimensionality.

I wanted to write a poem that addressed that sense of dizziness―to write directly into and through the experience. I wanted each word to bear the same weight as any of the things I attempted to describe, and to move as strangely―as musically―as the gaps between those things, where one thing blurs and breaks into another. The interruptions. Moments, fractions of moments. Silences, or (as is often―if not always―the case) their proxies.

The poems took on the necessary length: brief. How else to chart the flashes of slips in consciousness, the blank-headed realization that you're suddenly there, nameless yet wholly present, before the static of the everyday subsumes you. That's the poem I wanted to write. I spent the next seven years trying to get it right. I'm still trying to get it right.

Lately the work bends in different directions. There are poems of a deep inner-speech, no images, missives to a vacancy inherent in the effort to say anything at all. But I always return to the landscape that surrounds me, often piling on the moments rather than isolating them. I still want to stop time, to frame it; but I'm interested in going for a walk in the poem, noticing one thing after another, all while paying close attention to the terrain of the language itself: sound and its colors, textures.

Frank Samperi, Cid Corman, Lorine Niedecker, William Bronk, Emily Dickinson, Hilda Morley, Joseph Ceravolo, Charles Olson and Robert Creeley are some examples of the company I keep―the brilliant dead. I look to their lines for an anchor and also in the living: Rae Armantrout, Shannon Tharp, Lily Brown, Jess Mynes, Karin Lessing, Pam Rehm, Theodore Enslin, Peter Gizzi, and many others. My work is not only a dialogue with the environment and how one registers it, it intimately banters with these influences.

A couple of lunes from my book Bramble serve as an appropriate epitaph to this statement:


      when you say it, say
it―what's there
                to be said―what's here
       what's between us―this
chasm of
* * *

Listening to Joseph Ceravolo's
Home Recordings


In the room
of a memory

of a room.

brackets each

effaces the floor

while the
pills take

All I will

amount to:
the hours

these walls

as song.
* * *
Poem from Areas of Fog (Shearsman Books, 2009). Reprinted with the permission of the author. All Rights Reserved.




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