“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.

Rusty Morrison with Joseph Massey

Joseph Massey
Joseph Massey

Small-press publishers have the lucky opportunity to talk candidly with authors about the downturns and updrafts of the creative process which brought them to the moment of completion that we call a book. As Omnidawn’s co-publisher and senior poetry editor, I’ve had that great good fortune. It finally occurred to me that the readers and reviewers of these books might enjoy hearing some of this talk, too. Of course, a book of poetry needs no introduction or liner notes. But I’m always interested in any stories about how and where authors’ intentions and the actual creative work tangle together. So I started asking each of our authors a few questions in writing, and then enclosing these “interviews” with our advance/review copies. When the book is published, I post the interview on the book’s web page. The Conversant’s editors have asked if they might select some of those interviews to publish. It is my pleasure to say yes! –Rusty Morrison 

This interview concerns Joseph Massey’s book, To Keep Time

Rusty Morrison: Can you speak to the title and how it resonates through the poems in this collection?

Joseph Massey: To Keep Time, to seize a moment or a series of moments in motion before they degrade into memory, is an impossible task for the poem — for any work of art. There is no such thing as time, anyway, in the linear sense of the word. Phenomenal experience has no margins; but the poem defies that condition by attempting to say anything at all. I like that tension, that reach — I think, I hope, it’s what holds the book together.