Lawrence Joseph's ever-new interactions of thoughts, voices, and languages―influenced by his Lebanese and Syrian Catholic heritage, his professional life as a lawyer and legal scholar, and the economies of the world of working-class labor from which he comes―bear witness, on multilayered spatial and temporal planes, to the velocities of global and historical change, and to power structures embodied in endless wars, unleashed capital, racism, and ecological destruction, presenting an ongoing chronicle of what it means to write poetry in the turbulent times in which we live.
The local and intimate find their place on a global scale that the writing strives to bring close ... Not the first poet to meditate on political economy and empire, Joseph is distinguished by his knowledge, which is not merely technical...his poetry favors blunt words and has an ear for meaty talk ... No less than John Ashbery’s, Joseph’s poems soak up and savor common phrases ... And they have talk’s way of skating on thinnest ice: More than one poem ends up in a drastically different place from where it began, abrupt shifts testing the pressure talk can sustain ... The technique envisions strong sensations converging with moral judgment. Knowing how the poor can brutalize the somewhat less poor, and are brutalized by the powerful, Joseph knows, too, the fog-effect of official language and tries — not always successfully — to pierce it ... A poetry of force, and of statement, but somehow not always of forceful statement, Joseph’s is one in which verbal extravagance serves a distinctive kind of reverie. Walking or driving, mind and senses keyed up to highest pitch amid his wasted and opulent cities, he lets present and past wash over him ... He is one who derives equal power from looking into violence’s face and turning toward the beautiful as a compensatory violence of vivid sensations in which he rests his moral hope. Unafraid to push language to its breaking point in tautology, A Certain Clarity is a major work of American art that lives up to its early promise.
... we can trace Joseph’s development as a poet and see how his verse grows more complex and meaningful both in terms of what he writes about the world we live in today and what he says about the role of poetry in our lives ... understated but concisely descriptive ... Joseph’s poetry distills our puzzlement at a society that is increasingly baffling. We don’t know what we can do about the growing onslaught of violence and irrationality, particularly now, when our country is led by an immoral con man who doesn’t even understand the world around us, but who is influencing it to ill effect ... He writes poetry that is genuinely bold and vital and that deserves a wide audience. There is a long-standing argument in poetry. Does poetry matter? Joseph is making the case through his writing that poetry does indeed matter.
Where the early poems channeled, at least in part, 'the voice howling in you,' from this point on there is a more explicit sense of the poem as linguistic performance and conversation, heeding Wallace Stevens’s statement that 'poetry is the subject of the poem' ... Alot happened, not least in Joseph’s adopted New York, in the years preceding Into It (2005), and one of the results is that the earlier, never entirely vanquished anger of the first books became even more evident. Where an expressive rage was once aimed from up close at the factory owners and thieves, those who would exploit labor and attack the Joseph patriarch, here the avenging, biblical anger is an instrument in the great conflict against larger, less concrete, but no less dominating foes—'technocapital' and 'pseudoerudition' among them ... At their best, these later poems are able to combine the full weight of what is felt (the anger of Joseph’s earliest voice) with a rare virtuosity of public speech. He builds a language that aspires to take in the complexity of the world, through both conscious explanation and self-suppressing, reverent looking.