Barrelhousing with Joseph Massey


The new issue of Barrelhouse has something special about it. All the poetry was selected by Joseph Massey, an acclaimed poet and Barrelhouse contributor we've long admired. Joe's selections included new work by Rae Armantrout, Jess Mynes, Megan Kaminski, and more. It's a knockout issue.

Our poetry editor Dan Brady talks to Joseph Massey about assembling the issue, his latest book, and how his poems come together in the interview below.


Barrelhouse: How did you go about picking the poets you've selected for Barrelhouse 14?

Joseph Massey: I solicited work from poets who are, to my ears, keyed into the sonic potentialities (not  so much sound­driven as sound­conscious) and the inexhaustible range of inference and repercussion in a poem.

BH: You’ve said that your recent book To Keep Time completes a trilogy of sorts written during  your time in Humbolt County, California and your next book, due out from Wave Books in 2015, captures what you've been working on since you moved to Western Massachusetts. What should we expect in llocality?

JM: The poems gathered in Illocality chart my sense of destabilization as I adjusted to new landscapes and four seasons after twelve years on the coast of Humboldt County, California. The book is a record of my response to that sense of displacement, quiet shock, and gradual orientation; and the ecstasy, as well, of finding myself in personally uncharted territory, in unfamiliar weather, while searching for the language with which to say it.

BH: Given how exquisitely tight your poems are, what’s your drafting process like? I imagine you writing word by word, sound by sound. How does a poem begin? With an image? With a sound?

JM: Most of my poems begin in a notebook — quick sketches, whatever comes to mind — and then I take that schrapnel to the computer and puzzle something together. More often than not I'm driven by a phrase and a brain itch, thrown by an upswell in feeling, and the poem, if I'm lucky, spirals out from there.

BH: How do you collect images?

JM: Notebooks, pen to paper, always. I rarely write images from memory. Most of my images are written down on the spot, in the midst of witnessing them, en plein air.

BH: Beginning as a teenager, you started corresponding with poets you admired (Creeley, Cid Corman, Allen Ginsberg, and more). What effect did that have on your development as a poet? Would you recommend that kind of reaching out to poets coming up now?

JM: I didn't have any mentors, or even anyone I could talk to about poetry in a very basic way, when I was a teenager in the wasteland of Dover, Delaware, so I wrote the poets whose work I admired. Jack Hirschman and Cid Corman became regular correspondents, mentors through the mail, and boosted my confidence and gave me a community when I needed it most.

While it's easy to romanticize the days of hard­copy correspondence, the digital age has provided infinitely more dynamic means of outreach between poets. That can't be a bad thing.

BH: Here at Barrelhouse we end every interview—from comedians like Maria Bamford to musicians like Emmylou Harris to you right now—what’s your favorite Patrick Swayze movie?

JM: Ghost!