Michael Massey died unexpectedly in the early hours of Wednesday 27th August. He was 66. I was numbed and shocked when I heard the news as were Michael’s fellow writers and friends. I don’t care to think how his passing impacted on Jean, his wife, his four children and immediate family to whom I extend my deepest sympathy.
Michael and I were school teachers and we shared a love of the written word. Michael’s love of words manifested itself in poetry, an art form at which he excelled. I had never seen so much of Michael as I did during this Arts Week gone by. We both read at the launch of the Kilkenny Poetry Broadsheet in the Parade Tower, I came to hear him read in the company of fellow poets in Butler House at the ‘Made in Kilkenny’ exhibition; he reciprocated the following week and we both attended yet another reading there to hear more of our colleagues recite. And always we chatted – but then chatting with Michael was always easy as he was one of the most amenable, unassuming and sincere people I knew. He was also a gentleman in the truest sense of the word and a gentle soul. Above all Michael was modest. Modest perhaps sums up Michael because he was, and be in no doubt about this, a talented writer and a gifted poet. He was also hugely encouraging and generous with his time as those in the Kilkenny Writers Group and Writers Workshop will readily testify to.
Michael’s own brief biographical note (modest as usual) reads: ‘He has been involved in literary activities in Kilkenny for the last 20 years; has had his work published in such journals as Poetry Ireland Review, The Stinging Fly and The Shop. He has also published three collections of poetry, and has twice been nominated for a Hennessy Award.’ The Hennessy Awards are, if you like, the Oscars of new Irish writing.
Michael’s most recent appearance in print is in the Kilkenny Poetry Broadsheet, No 14, a publication that he has been published in consistently since its inception in 2001 and a publication that he edited one year. I read with envy Michael’s poems, knowing full well how challenging it was to make those poems seem so seamless, so effortless and so insightful. I pen the following words as a compliment to Michael, fellow writer and wordsmith who knew and understood how inadequate words can be when trying to pin down that elusive thing we call a poem. And yet Michael did marvellously well in marshalling those elusive words into meaningful, beautifully crafted poems.
(For Michael Massey)
You loved them. Played with them.
Toyed with them. Tussled with them.
You chased them down the slipways
Of your insight, vision, dreams
In dogged pursuit of meaning, clarity, truth.
They teased you. Tormented you.
Resisted you until, at last,
You agreed an acceptable peace
A truce that you could call a poem.
Michael Massey, gifted poet, sincere, unassuming gentleman, I’ll miss your soft smile, your easy, engaging company and your gentle, sensitive presence.