Sunday, February 8, 2015

Quick Takes: TO KEEP TIME

Joseph Massey. To Keep Time. Omnidawn, 2014

To Keep Time is the first book of Joseph Massey’s I’ve read, but I recognize his voice immediately. It’s the sound of November, when walks outside become chill at the edges and solitary, and the loudest voice becomes the one inside your own head. There’s a way words sound when you whisper or cajole yourself in a soft room or a crisp field. You’re hearing tones literally from within your body as well as from without: so each word, phoneme by phoneme, becomes as deeply resonant as it is evanescent. Massey has that sound down. 
You could read this book with enormous pleasure just following the movement of vowel sounds as they make abundant progress in tight spaces. Track the sound of “o” from “An Undisclosed Location in Northern California: “As long as blood runs / the body, / there is no silence.” Three lines, three kinds of “o”s—the “ah” of “long” and “body,” the “uh” of “blood,” and the “oh” of “no.” Or, listen to the fructifying, entwining “i”s in “The Bend”:



above a sidewalk

with bird shit.

These poems find gorgeous detail and sound everywhere: “Dryer vent steam / veils hydrangeas // in the driveway.” Or here: “skunks / scuffle under // the floorboards / and a car alarm’s // echo comes apart / in a parking lot.” Recognizable, right? And strange. 

Once or twice Massey’s talent for mapping the stuff we live among comes up with a word that sounds wrong to me—“interstices,” for example, or “aperture”—like it's visiting on a grant from the academy. These kinds of words are probably an occupational hazard for a writer who’s subsumed so deeply in the complexities and counter-turns of his own solitary thought. And they are not in the end that distracting: they're among the very few mis-steps in the sinuous, sensate manner these words and sounds make their way through place. Each poem in To Keep Time enacts a tension between idea and action, thought and thing — “Call it / consciousness.” This all-alone business it turns out, is busy, ample work. Silence itself is revealed to be a highly charged and active field, “Silence hums.” So does this book.  

No comments: