Thursday, September 19, 2002

In his statement for Michael Lally’s 1976 anthology, None of the Above, the late Jim Gustafson admonished, “Suggest that one strives to read something more than the books that come in the mail.” It’s not bad advice, but doesn’t account for the unexpected delights that once in a rare while do turn up. Joseph Massey’s Minima St. (Range Press, 2002) is just such a treat.

In actuality, Minima St. (a self-published limited edition chapbook with a press run of just 50 copies) wasn’t a total surprise. Rae Armantrout, who had received the book in her mail ahead of me, had written to say that I would like the work. The poems are, as the title wryly implies, minimalist:

by the ticking

not the alarm.

Such close attention to detail demands both precision and a sense of balance – the stanza break prior to the last line is the poem’s most important moment. As a whole, Minima St. manages both values well. I vacillate between a preference for poems like the one above, which focus on an individual element, and other pieces that are less completely descriptive, where the text pushes the reader some to make the connections:

            Gulls –



The off-rhyme pulls together the imponderables: how songs might collapse, the weight of sun, what any of this has to do with gulls.

Minima St. fits into a long tradition of self-published first books mailed out to potentially sympathetic readers that can be traced back at least far as Whitman’s initial edition of Leaves of Grass. In its use of short forms, hard-edged lines, commitment to precision, and especially its fondness for the strategically placed em dash, the most obvious predecessor to Massey’s volume might be George Oppen’s Discrete Series.

Interested readers might be able to obtain copies by emailing