Joseph Gross is the director of the Ransom District Library in Plainwell, where the kids call him “Mr. Joe.” But he’s also a poet and his first poetry collection, Everything at Rest is Waiting to Move, was recently published by Celery City Chapbooks.
“These are poems culled from the last five years or so,” Gross says. “As I put them together, I found a theme of change…Many of them were inspired by a class I took at Western for my MFA, with Bill Olsen.”
Gross says Olsen helped him focus on poetry as he studied creative nonfiction at Loyola University with Dean Young before coming to Western Michigan University. Gross's stories, essays, and poems have appeared in a variety of national journals, including the Alaska Quarterly Review, Fourth Genre, the Mid-American Review, and Redivider.
Gross worked as editor-in-chief at Atticus Review for some years. His approach to poetry then was not necessarily how well he understood a particular poem as to how deeply it moved him.
“There are poems that I’ve admired without necessarily being moved,” Gross says. “I tend to like poetry in which I can find my bearing rather than something that is so abstract that it’s difficult to find an entry point. That can be almost embarrassing to admit, but I can also say that I’ve been moved by poems that I can’t say I totally understood.”
Gross acknowledges that many people are intimidated by poetry, especially those more abstract and dense works that can be challenging to understand.
“Sometimes you have to try not so much to understand something,” he says, “as much as to feel it. Like an abstract or Post-Impressionist painting. A poem can work like that: images juxtaposed next to each other that can create a word painting. People struggle sometimes, and feel bamboozled by something made of words, which is our communicative tissue, that doesn’t seem to make sense. It makes it feel like a joke has been played on you.”
But Gross laughs and says readers have permission not always understand every poem but still find a way to appreciate the beauty within.
Listen to WMUK's Between the Lines every Tuesday at 7:50 a.m., 11:55 a.m., and 4:20 p.m.