Publication Date:  October 1, 2017
Paperback, 72 pages
ISBN:  978-1-937968-38-0
Booksellers:  Available from
Small Press Distribution
Michael Joyce once thought to
become a Jesuit and perhaps became
one nonetheless (his own father once
described himself as “Jesuitical, self-
taught”). He is the author of thirteen
books spanning a career as a novelist,
poet, critic and theorist, digital literature
pioneer, and collaborative multimedia

artist. His poems have appeared in
Beloit Poetry Journal, FENCE, FOLLY
Gastronomica, The Iowa Review,
New Letters, nor/, Notre Dame Review,
Parthenon West, Spoon River Review,
New Review, OR (Otis Review), TAG
, The Common, and THE SHOp
(Cork). With Gabriella Frykhamn he has
published translations of the Swedish
modernist poet Karin Boye in
River Review
, Metamorphoses, and
Notre Dame Review. Two book-length
sequences of poems,
Paris Views (2012),
Biennial (2015), were published by
BlazeVOX [Books]. He lives along the
Hudson River near Poughkeepsie where
he is Professor of English at Vassar

The dictionary definition of “hagiography” is a biography of a saint, but though some
saints turn up here, Michael Joyce’s
A Hagiography of Heaven and Vicinity is more a
travelogue through a unique poetic landscape where the spiritual and secular inter-
twine, “salvation and damnation mixed,” in a heady brew of culture highbrow
pop, of past and present, the imagined and real.  The book both begins and ends with
images of “an ordinary place upon this earth”, one the “placeless place” of a shopping
mall (where Saul of Tarsus contemplates the end of prophesy while eating sesame
chicken), the other the author’s memories of a street corner in Uppsala, which in its
very lack of anything remarkable answers the “silence of god.” The poems bracketed
by these images most all play variations on this theme of the interpenetration of the
sacred and the mundane – and if this calls to mind Thomas Merton’s famous sidewalk
epiphany that is no accident, since the hermit monk himself makes an appearance.

In part these poems address how we are to live in the world of “a creator who  /
disinterestedly watches.”  As Joyce suggests in one poem,

    Some by eye and some by scent,
    some via a proprioceptive [wonderful word!] fumbling
    in the night, we make our way
    there wherever we are going in the dark.

Yes, we stumble here in our vicinity to heaven, but always we are reminded of the
presence of something
other.  In “His Theology” the quest for a “god of everyone”
ends in a flurry of winter birds at a feeder; and in another poem Joyce sees a dead
brother in a crow and yearns to understand its language, its warning.  In one of the
several prayers that dot these pages, he entreats

    God save us from the edges of things, recesses beneath
    concrete underpass, bundles of greasy rags within which
    homeless dream beaches and sauterne, fruit of the vine,
    work of human hands unlikely to save us from anything
    but us, this pilgrim's progress unrelenting and mundane
    yet all we have of passing glory and thus duly celebrated.

And this is indeed a celebration.  Heavy stuff, to be sure, and in lesser hands it might
have been ponderous.  “It would be quite a trick to bring all this to some conclusion,”
Joyce admits; but the good news is that he does so, brilliantly, even joyfully.

Praise for A Hagiography of Heaven and Vicinity:

The power of Michael Joyce’s verse line is testimony to the virtues of the “prose
tradition in verse” Ezra Pound wrote about a century ago.
Hagiography of Heaven
includes some of the best writing I have read this year, and moreover it is wise,
offering up an extraordinarily attentive and reassuring poetry celebrating the
familiarity and strangeness of the ordinary where the ordinary includes the literary

and the heavenly. These are poems where Wile E. Coyote exists beside the desert
fathers, Saul of Tarsus with sesame chicken in a paper cup. Even in their most
melancholy moments they lift my spirits.

                                                                      —Keith Tuma, author of Climbing into the Orchestra &
                               On Leave: A Book of Anecdotes

At first one imagines the light is there to illuminate the objects. Later one realizes the
objects are there to allow the light to demonstrate its various intensities and moods,
radiant and giving, luminous and strict. So the Hudson Valley poet William Bronk
suggests somewhere in his work, and so the Hudson Valley poet/prose poem poet/
essayist and writer of versets Michael Joyce demonstrates across these several
modalities in this rich collection. It only stands to reason that in the “Lives of the
Saints” section “Beyond the station/the light lies in wait/gathered over the winter/in
these white fields” whereas in the second section, “desert dialogues”, one can read,
“From nothing nothing but the dawn/was once a pencil of uncertain light”... Yes, the
darkness of winter is always there in Joyce but here too is a language of sentiment
and the perceiving eye that also feels and sees heaven in the waves of Lethe, a Lethe
which is both Late Capitalism and bodily decay. “I make of this suburb my own little
island” Joyce offers, where that island is the soul, “a soul in the way the fire of a
candle lacks at its center/ bright mandorla of nothingness surrounding the wick”. It is
in this waver, this flicker, this hesitation, that writing finds the new life.

                                                       —Leonard Schwartz, author of The New Babel

We begin this hagiography with an instruction from Rilke: “Then think about life
itself.” So, in the aftermath of an absent cause, we begin to think. We meet the
“reluctant hero” of these poems first in the food court of a shopping mall: maybe
something is missing or has fled from the light in which we read, considering saints.
Maybe the edges are ungilded, heavenly light withdrawn and holiness rescinded, as
when the “laptop goes to sleep / the milky light fleeing back from whence it came.”
But each of these poems comes on like dawn, even when dawn is a problem, a little
alarming—“dawn like a grey caul / pulled off”; an “inadequate category” “for all

that it collects”; “From nothing nothing but the dawn / was once a pencil of uncertain
light.” Each poem in this book is a sung articulation of the go-for-broke wager that
there is an artificial light that can rival heaven’s own, and by which we may begin to
know. And this was Rilke’s wager, too. As he put it, “Art is a farther reaching, more
immodest love. It is God’s love,” whether or not we have a god and—now Joyce—
“whatever the aftermath of light.” Whatever the aftermath we are in, it is better for
being in the light of this book.

                                         —Jane Gregory, author of My Enemies and [YEAH NO]

Michael Joyce
was interviewed by Pennsound editor Chris Funkhouser on "Poet Ray'd Yo."  
Click here to hear Micheal read from and discuss A Hagiography of Heaven and Vicinity.
A Hagiography of
Heaven and

Poetry by
Michael Joyce
Photo by Carolyn Guyer