Art, Truth And Cancel Culture: An Interview With Writer Joseph Massey

Fiona Dodwell
5 min readFeb 25, 2023

Joseph Massey is a poet and writer from Massachusetts. He has had several works published, including Mock Orange (2010), Another Rehearsal For Morning (2011) and Rosary Made Of Air (2022). His poetry has been read all over the world, with translated works in French, Dutch, Bengali, Finnish, Czech, and Portuguese.

Massey has seen firsthand the impact of cancel culture and as a result, has insightful opinions on the impact of “cancellation” that happens in the online world. He, too, has explored spiritual and religious topics in his writing and online accounts, which have aroused significant debate and discussion. Having followed Massey and his work for some time, I invited him for an interview.

Hi Joseph. It’s lovely to finally get this chance to talk. I know we’ve both wanted to do this interview for some time now.

Yes, finally! Thank you for taking the time, even as time is a watery blur these days.

How has life been for you lately?

“The sanest days are mad,” as Morrissey sang. Like most people I know, I’m still dizzy from the pandemic and what felt like an endless rollout of contradictory mandates and protocols. It feels like the collective psyche has been damaged, rattled into either extreme incredulity or cult-like obedience to the state and “the science.”

Language has been bent to accomplish ideological ends, which is nothing new in a world where people climb over each other for a taste of power, but I don’t know if there’s ever been a moment in history where basic definitions of things — the names and categories attached to real things that constitute reality — were warped as they are now. And we know what happens to the impure, the people who are unwilling to bend to insanity. They’re cast out. This is a long-winded way of saying: Life has been stranger than usual.

You pour so much of your energy and inspiration into your poetry. When did your journey into writing poetry begin?

Poetry came into my life in the form of a biography about Jim Morrison, of all things, in the 6th grade. I read all the poets the book said Morrison read: Rimbaud, Blake, Kerouac, and Ginsberg, all the so-called Beats.

The same obsessive love I felt for poetry then, I feel now. From that point forward, I’ve known what I’m here to do: communicate my bewilderment and my awe, as a conscious being in this world, through lines of language broken down the page.

How many titles have you had published now?

I’ve published six full-length collections of poetry: Areas of Fog, At the Point, To Keep Time, Illocality, A New Silence, and Rosary Made of Air. A few of those titles were thrown down a memory hole by cowardly publishers. I started my own imprint to publish my own books without the possibility of that ever happening again. The Exile Press is my sole publisher now. I also send a poem each week to my Substack subscribers.

Do you write most days? Would you say it’s your purpose?

Yes, I write every day, even if it’s only a word or two in my notebook — but even when I’m not writing, I’m writing. I derive joy from observing and participating in the perpetual correspondence between the world around us and the language we use to navigate it. I’m always taking notes.

I’ve followed you online for quite some time and I know you’ve experienced being the victim of “cancellation” as have many others. Do you mind sharing what this experience was like for you?

If I had stopped writing or, worse, killed myself because of the cancellation, then I would be a victim. The cancellers were a blessing. I’m stronger for their herd-minded weakness. They showed me who I’m not, and that intensified my resolve to continue writing, to do what I’ve been called to do, throughout the turmoil and loss.

I found out who my friends are, too. That’s the second-best gift of being torn apart by an online mob who wants your life, as you know it, to end. You find out who’s true and who isn’t. It’s horribly painful but eventually the wound closes, and hopefully your ability to trust others is still intact.

How have you found navigating the online world in such highly challenging times?

Social media is a playpen for the criminally insane, but it’s also a gathering place for the sane, likeminded, and the good-humored. I’ve found a new community, apart from the literary world that ejected me, through social media, and a new readership.

How would you say your experiences online have shaped you as a person, if at all?

The mobbing, the viciousness aimed at me, enabled me to trust my inner resources and further engage in a practice of self-discovery. If I know I’m not what they say I am, then who am I? Eventually, I converted to Catholicism. I found my answers there, and most importantly, my salvation.

Who are some of your biggest influences?

Morrissey, for teaching me through his lyrics and vocal melodies how to weave vowels through a line so they sound haunted. Ezra Pound, for his attention to images. Emily Dickinson, for her off-rhymes and her dashes. Cid Corman, for writing back to me when I was a teenager and changing my life.

Can you share some of your favourite books — both in poetry and in fiction?

Nothing beats the Psalms (you’ll find them in the Bible)! W. S. Graham is a poet too few people know; his Selected Poems is a gem. I just read and wrote a blurb for a forthcoming book of poetry, The Signalman, by a young English poet, Ezra Miles, which gave me hope for the future of the art. Hope is a rare thing these days, in any dimension.

Finally, what keeps you going? What is it that keeps that fire inside of you so ignited?

I think of why I started to write poetry in the first place. Poetry was a means of survival and a frame for a world that overwhelmed me. After I was “cancelled,” I was brought back to that original purpose. By being blacklisted and turned into a pariah, I was given a second life in poetry.

Thanks so much.

Thank you, Fiona!