Sunday, December 7, 2014



TO KEEP TIME by Joseph Massey
(Omnidawn, Richmond, CA, 2014)

I once lived with a painting by Randy Dudley—a painting of polluted terrain in the foreground and fog in the background.  I mostly remember and cannot forget the fog.  How, on a flat surface, the artist painted the fog by also painting depth.  The fog, therefore, seemed to come towards the foreground from an impressively long distance back in the background.  I don’t have the painting anymore, but it was/is a fabulous work and its memory was welcome, a gift offered by the poems in Joseph Massey’s TO KEEP TIME. 

For Massey’s poems are lovely: nuanced and resonant such that one of its overall effects is the evocation of an atmospheric world.  These are poems which I don’t feel are particularly short and yet are minimalistic relative to the emotions and thoughts they move a reader to feel/think. For instance, consider this—and I open the book at random for this excerpt (I open the book at random because I want to prove the effectiveness of all the poems):

The near silence
rattles me

to attention.
Nest of stone

foam slaps.

lifts, settles
on the water:

a name,
a nonsense syllable.

I find it interesting how the above excerpt offers the sense of something that’s somehow very familiar.  I feel I’ve been in this situation before—pausing to listen for something.  And, sure, the ending lines “a name / a nonsense syllable.” can refer to what may arise.  But it’s not something I would have thought—until I read the poem—as an example of what would come to mind, and thus makes me pause in attention a second time.  That’s clever diction.

The diction elevates.  When combined with unexpected imagery, the poem compels the reader to stay longer with it, rather than rush the read on to the next page, e.g.





As someone suffering at the time of this review-writing from allergies that make the eyes tear up, I really felt the truth of that “invasive” light…

Anyway, I feel I can’t really talk about these poems as anything I say feels short of the effects they create so delicately but also so powerfully.  The poems speak for themselves.  Let me manifest my recommendation of this book simply by opening the book yet at random once more to let you enjoy the resulting poetry:


Low clouds shear the hills in half.


Not quite a false spring.

A glow
gnaws the boundaries—

There.  I told you so.


Eileen Tabios reveals something about herself in ARDUITY'S interview about what's hard about her poetry.  Her just-released poetry collection, SUN STIGMATA (Sculpture Poems), received a review by Amazon Hall of Famer reviewer Grady Harp.  Due out in 2015 will be her second "Collected Poems" project; while her first THE THORN ROSARY was focused on the prose poem form, her forthcoming INVEN(S)TORY will focus on the list or catalog poem form.  More information at 

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