The Language of Desire to Speak: Joseph Massey’s Exit North

          Another just-received and welcome addition to Jay MillAr’s BookThug brood: Joseph Massey’s chapbook Exit North.
          In these poems, Massey depicts experience as a cross-hatch of perspective, sensory traces, and memory interlaced with symbols that continually learn and put to the test their nature-shaping patterns. If perception’s chaos is sorted out, linguistically occupied, cross-referenced with emotion and memory, it is also underlaid with emptiness: the page on which so much was believed to be written turns out to be blank.
          Experience lures language, which just as inevitably fades into silence just out of reach of the desire for the culmination of the senses in names, familiar and knowable. Attempts to understand, to order, to see yield “rhythms / looped through / the musicless field.” And this filtered experience of clamour full of trenchant detail leaves its traces as “an echo / gathering more / and more silence.”
          Massey’s poetic language enacts the rich mental process of knowing laced with the futility of perceiving the “sky clouded / by cloudlessness.” If, however, in the end we are left only with the desire to name, “to find / a word there,” that desire mitigates the abject state of being within impenetrable confusion: “the impulse [to speak] is enough.”
          A sampling to whet the appetite:

The Process

outside sounds
double the day’s

indoor confusion.
How to untwine
noise, to see.

There’s the bay,
highway slashed
beneath; water

a weaker shade
of gray than this
momentary sky’s

widening bruise.
The page turns
on the table, bare

despite all
I thought was
written there.

* * * *


From this hill’s vantage
all things become
whatever wind
makes them.

Electronic church bells
peal past overlapped
crow calls—

one left
a car lot.

* * * *


Cut grass, gasoline,
mound of rotted
weeds in a vacant lot

—the scent cast,
dense, with
each breeze—in

flustered shade.
What’s in a day’s
name: its slowly

summoned rhythms
looped through
the music-

less field—after-
noon’s clamor:

cars, deflated
bass lines
at a red light,

an argument
rattling the blue
aluminum trailer.

* * * *

Camille Martin


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