Joseph Massey

Wave Books, 2015
Paperback, 120 pp.

A Volley of Seasonal Beacons

Joseph Massey’s collection of poems, Illocality (Wave Books, 2015) is a movement through seasons, beginning in the heat of summer’s hum and lag and softly shifting to an autumn that embalms/the hour and where Rain claps / dead leaves. In winter, Fields midfreeze flash past into Snowscape snowswept. Finally, the poems are witness to Gauzy sunburst/ striping the thaw.

As the title of the book suggests, we are never captured in a particular place, season, or sky. This is a book of transitions and seeing. The author watches so closely that everything slows to a breath-by-breath pace. And like breath, it is a motion so constant it might feel like no motion at all. Slowing down the world in this way can give it a visceral thickness. Massey writes of summer: To walk into it–/ breathe the frequencies/ that knot the air. The individual word choice throughout the poems reflects this experience of continual, careful motion. As in: dividing, crossing, delineating, stretched, lets in, lets out, shapes, combines, pulls, sieve, splinters, spools, exchange, scattering, staggering, opening, closing, fade, fold, absorbing, strewn, washed out, burrowing, bleeding in, drifting, narrowing, wafting, lengthening, sustaining, revolving, runoff, strains

As in:

Light strains/ through objects—/ adjusts the shape/ of a world.

A place where softness (light or air) can re-form the material world. Profound transformation, quietly, with no raging. Even the coldest moment of winter slowly churns with motion: December/ reverberates with decay/ and the freezing over of decay. In the poem, “Contain,” set in the store of winter, the effect of the language is that of a scroll unrolling. Here is the end of this beautiful poem:

At the border
between seasons
air’s grainy with
light’s lengthening.
Listen to an hour
shift shape, how
it contains
sonic detritus
in a dream-thin
frame, slush
spun under tires,
a church bell’s
high note
bent above
dusk folding
the corners in.

As in: folding, spun, shift, lengthening, bent, dusk, corners in.

Minimalist in nature, there is not much of the personal voice in these poems. Mostly, there is seeing. With little presence of an “I” that calls attention to itself, the words themselves seem to take on the dress of animation. Sometimes the words click. Sometimes they snake or fold. Sometimes they pause to breathe. Massey writes, It must be enough/ to live in the variations/ of wind alone./ To sing the seams. In reading these poems, I can begin to believe it. In the space of close attention, there is an unending fullness that opens to greater possibility of experience. The result is a book that I will continue to come back to. It moves lightly, and carves its holds.

photoElisabeth Whitehead grew up in the Washington D.C. area and Japan and currently lives in North Carolina.  She teaches in the Writing Program at Wake Forest University.