“How the Whole World Crashes Into Silence”: Open House Interviews Joseph Massey

Joseph Massey’s To Keep Time (Omnidawn 2015)

Cosmo Spinosa: To me, there is a subtextual exploration of human effects on the environment that runs as a theme throughout your work. These seem like thoughtful and pointed juxtapositions, and not simply an arrangement of “things.” They seem like decisions informed by environmental issues, and in some sense, they seem political to me. As you were writing To Keep Time, was your process motivated by environmental issues, or were they more linguistically and aesthetically motivated, or both? Your work seems to reinforce and play with ideas that are commonly associated with eco-poetics, but your name isn’t usually brought up when people talk about the subject of eco-poetry. Do you think that your work fits under the category of eco-poetry?

Joseph Massey: No, because I’m not interested in formulating an ethical position prior to the composition of the poem — at least not consciously. If there are ethical concerns in the work, and I agree that there are, they’re an afterthought.

Cosmo Spinosa with Kate Robinson: “A Willful Resistance to be Named”

Kate Robinson
Kate Robinson

For 2015, The Conversant is partnering with Open House, a new online journal of poetry and poetics. This interview concerns Kate Robinson’s work with the visual poetry of letterpress sigil design. It was first published by Open House in November 2014. 

Cosmo Spinosa: Let’s start with some preliminary questions to position your work with sigil design. What initially inspired these sigils? Who or what are your influences for this work? Some cursory research I’ve done on sigils and their history has shown that sigils are considered to have magic powers, being a sort of signature unique to a person or entity that is used in rituals, holding a special place in the practice of magic. Did you begin creating your sigil designs with magic in mind? Did you consider this a magical process?

Kate Robinson: I first became aware of sigilization through my former boyfriend, although it could have also been a mutual friend of ours, but I’m pretty sure it was Jed. He would draw sigils himself as a magic practice. It’s a way to focus one’s intention and manifest desires or protection. Initially this was just a personal practice, it wasn’t really intended as art, or, if I’m totally honest, fully magic. I’ve always been fascinated by letterforms at a sort of basic level. When I was a kid/teen I would doodle alphabets, it’s kind of surprising to me that I didn’t become a type designer…anyway, I think I sort of pretended that I was making them for magic purposes, these letterform symbol doodles, but really I think I just enjoyed manipulating the familiar forms into unfamiliar and pleasing symbols. So I guess my influences were my friends, who were using them for their more serious magic practices, and some sort of innate interest in letters. There are artists who have sort of secondarily influenced me, like Jen Bervin and Anni Albers. Albers, a weaver, often used a typewriter to make weaving patterns, and Bervin encountered these while doing a residency at The Albers Foundation and decided to make her own versions, some of which were in I’ll Drown My Book. “The Preliminary Pattern Study” (featured in 580 Split and the TIL anthology) is explicitly after them. Then there are some artists who aren’t really influences as much as sort of coincidences, people currently working in this mode. Letterpress printers Jack Stauffacher and Graham Moore are doing sort of similar things, layering letterforms, Stauffacher’s being more sigil-like than Moore’s. As well as some painters, I like Elijah Burgher, but some of those I don’t like at all, there’s one guy, Will Boone, who just seems to layer the letters on top of one another with no play of balance and form. I find those paintings to be really flat.