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.