Don’t Call it a Deep Dive: Joseph Spece

Joseph Spece on Joseph Spece’s “Belmont Ave”

1/ a lake of tapwater

I like that word, RB: lake. A punchy monosyllable, long vowel & velar consonant. Best accounting I can do. But that’s notable, in its way; because I like lake so much, I police its use. That it appears in a four-line poem—cannot disappear there—means I cared for this conceit enough to spend a lake on it.

About tapwater—if memory serves, I’ve never written the word otherwise, might never again. The genesis of the poem was in my old woody kitchen, so maybe there was a stoppage, maybe I was combing the space for something to heighten the spook of the piece. This bit—a lake of tapwater—is, from writer’s perspective, of primary moment in the poem. It strangeness set the cast blueblack, even shaping what the gourd (following) would become.


2/ fat blighted birds

It was October. What I like to do in October is shop for the ugliest possible gourds & put them here and there in the flat. Not rotting gourds, but gruesome healthy ones, looking like they’ve been grown across the bias of an uneven lattice, or like a whole sleeve of cell walls buckled to make a bulge in the circumference of it, a bad droplet. I found a very fine one, orange and darkgreen, where stem and high ribs had joined to make a neck & kind of beak. This took the primary spot on my table, balancing well on its flat blossom end. As a kid, I remember a regular dream about birds—swooping, attenuated necks, matte eyes—but I was more attended by the dream than menaced by it. The poem grew into its own menace.


3/ is this the road upstairs     ,child

As the gutter goes, I’m (now) fully taken with the invisible architecture of the page: the ‘projective’ style. My poems ravel as they see fit, & I can barely boss them. At CU, Richard Howard called the projective method inspissation—I was wowed by that, because early encounters with projective verse had me convinced they thinned the content across the page, not thickened it. (These encounters were with Laura Goode’s poems and her form-language. I first met her projective style with disdain, but it was she who taught me that the poem could unmoor.) Otherwise, this line is a lift with smallest paraphrase: in Wuthering Heights, Heathcliff corrals Isabella—then a desperate charge at the Heights—with smiling gall as she walks about: Go upstairs; I have something to say to Ellen Dean in private. That’s not the way: upstairs, I tell you! Why, this is the road upstairs, child!


Belmont Ave

beneath a lake of tapwater today I found a gourd just like
the fat blighted birds in my dreams, blighted darkgreen,
streams oozing down its back while a knotty beak leans
over the slit and writes is this the road upstairs     ,child



Joseph Spece lives outside Boston, MA, USA. He took degrees from Boston College and Columbia University; his publishing credits include Poetry, DIAGRAM, 3AM, Volt, TriQuarterly, Agni, and Best American Experimental Writing, and the volumes BAD ZOO (Fathom, 2018) and Roads (Cherry Grove, 2013). He holds fellowships in writing from The Poetry Foundation, MacDowell Colony, Vermont Studio Center, and the Massachusetts Cultural Council. He’s founding editor at Fathom Books.

Image: Detail from The Garden of Earthly Delights, Hieronymus Bosch, 1490-1510.

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