Sunday, August 7, 2011

At the Point by Joseph Massey

Shearsman, 2011. Joseph Massey’s second book of poetry, At the Point is my favorite of the summer. You can read it on a plane, at the beach, between two mountains, in your room, at a summer poetry workshop, or in a car that is on the plains. (I have done all of these things and looked impossibly cool doing them.) The collection, which came out in May, is dedicated to Humboldt County, California where Massey has lived for the last ten years and pays close attention to the area’s imaginatively fertile landscape.

The subjects of the poems, often natural and northern California specific (a mock orange tree, beach grass, driftwood, hydrangeas, nasturtiums, lots o’ lichen) are so carefully described that the poem becomes invested in the act of perception itself, “Attached to blackberry thorns / a plastic bag balloons,” and what is more, how the poet finds the words to observe, “Insects click / in brick and wood— // a kind of metronome / my mind stumbles to.” As the book’s title suggests, each moment of the work is at the brink of poetic revelation, or perhaps of exactitude itself. A poet cannot do what a photographer does, but Massey comes close. It is in this closeness that the imagination must catch its breath, click back, wind the film— “The landscape / overwhelms an impulse / to speak. Sky clouded // by cloudlessness.”

The lines are short, often two and three words; the poet gives us white space to process. The minimalist form and imagist/meditative style of the poems pay tribute to contemporary poets. I’m reminded of Rae Armantrout, Pam Rehm, Ron Silliman but also, of course, we get the poetic tradition of Ezra Pound, Emily Dickinson, Robert Creeley and William Carlos Williams (“No ideas but in things”) to whom a series of poems (also published separately by The University of Iowa Press— go find it) is dedicated. “Black moth / wrecked / against glass. // Cactus aglow / on a narrow ledge.” If a project were to be found it might be in the poem “Prescription,” “To think through / each word’s / particular weather. // To stand / just far enough / outside of the page.” I left the book wanting to take that medicine. Massey’s adherence to and articulation of the particulars of the “thing” will blow your socks off. It will make you go berserk. READ THIS AWESOME BOOK!

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