Cartography of Cold

***Warning! Chapbook review ahead***

This post is just to say that I’ve been waiting a very long time for my copy of Joseph Massey’s chapbook, “Illocality,” to arrive.  Amazon = slow-boat. But finally! it arrived two days ago. I thought I’d save reading it for the next run of gray days, but that didn’t happen. I picked the book up this morning, a warm sunny morning for a New York October, and I didn’t put it down.  I devoured a third of the 111 pages, I wanted to save some for later, but I can tell you right now ITS DELICIOUS. And some of the poems are funny in a peculiar way. (Perhaps best described as the clichéd “wry” sense of humor.) For example, here’s a few lines from a poem titled “Route 31”:

Yellow centerline
split with roadkill.

First day of summer – I’ve got my omen –

And maybe it was an omen, because Massey moved from California to the east coast the year we had one of the worst winters in decades: below zero temps for days on end, and no sun for 50 + days at time. (2013-14) Winters like that are hard on everybody, but the nice thing about poets is that they write about it.  And write about it Massey did, with the precision of a Buddhist monk.

“Illocality” starts with a poem titled “Parse” to prepare us for how we should treat the poems ahead. From there, all of Massey’s lines lay like bite size riddles on the page: petit fours at a funeral gathering?

Here’s another taste from “Third Floor”:

Birdsong next door
slipknots construction noise.

The day has its ballast.

But don’t shy away from the “riddles,” he doesn’t make you think too hard – that one is do-able, right? Massey seems to have a tight grip on how far he can push his metaphors. However, there are some poems that appear to parse the “meta- poetic.” “Meta-poetic” meaning poems about poems, or poems about writing poems. For example, in the last stanza of “Third Floor”-

watching the lines
that cross, that stain
and form a field
from the field
I forgot, winter forgot.

The “lines” might be the lines of the poem. And the “field” – paper?

“Polar Low,” which is toward the back of the book, is the poem I am treasuring most, today. This is a poem of terse, Zen like, couplets that pack a punch – think lake effect snow. I’m certain that’s what he’s describing, but you’ll have to get the book to read it for yourself. I like that the yellow trailer  in this poem makes me think childhood words of wisdom: don’t eat the yellow snow. LOL Anywho…

Massey’s poems are deep dives into place like none other. Nothing happens. Nothing moves. We only hear, and see, and think about things both visible and invisible. I had many aha moments while reading: I could see with my mind’s eye the images he’s painted .

If you’re into philosophy and place, I’m sure Joseph Massey’s chapbook is for you. But don’t just take my word, here’s what The New York Times had to say. As for me, More please!

Here’s Joe reading an untitled poem from “Illocality”: (More on Pennsounds)

4 comments

    1. Thank you!

      Massey’s poetry is really brilliant. Here’s the Emily Dickinson poem the title is taken from: (I just learned this yesterday.)

      A nearness to Tremendousness – / An agony procures- / Affliction ranges Boundlessness – / Vicinity to Laws // Contentment’s quiet Suburb – / Affliction cannot stay / In acres – Its Location / Is Illocality –

      Now, I think that’s brilliant. ED just blows my mind. Massey has a little Gertrude Stein and William Carlos Williams in the mix, too – as well as others.

      Liked by 1 person

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