The Poet Joseph Massey Is an Abuser


In November 2017, the below letter was anonymously sent to two of Joseph Massey’s publishers, Wesleyan University Press and Wave Books, and two literary establishments with which he has collaborated/worked, Barrelhouse Magazine and the Kelly Writer’s House at UPenn. Previously, a letter-writer entirely unknown to this one tried to warn University of Georgia Press. He responded to the UGA letter in a deleted public statement (see below). We feel it is urgent now for us to publish this letter.

IMPORTANT NOTE: Since this letter was written, two different and specific allegations of physical abuse and sexual assault have arisen, proof of which will be provided to Massey’s publishers and editors.


To Whom It May Concern,

This is in regards to Joseph Massey, a poet with whom you collaborate. Over the past several years, far too many people have told me about his verbal and psychological abuse. I no longer feel okay sitting silently with this information. For many people in “whisper networks”, it is now taken for granted that Massey is a predator.

The details of the abuse come to me from sources that are reliable by any acceptable standard. The number of separate accounts I know of now is up to almost ten. I am not in the position to disclose too many details of others’ stories, though perhaps the individuals will speak someday. Many accounts include ways in which Massey shows a classic “grooming” pattern with women and then later has serious, long-term episodes of inflicting psychological abuse on them, including but not limited to severe name-calling, bullying, and unrelenting verbal abuse; blaming victims for symptoms of what he considers his mental illness(es) and using depression/anxiety as an excuse for predation; alienating and gaslighting victims; and threatening to harm victims’ public and personal reputations. Many of these relationships/friendships seem to begin long-distance and over the internet before they meet up in person, and seem to almost always be with other writers and poets, some of whom are not as known or published as him, and have come to him, at least in part, as fans of his work. I suspect there are many screenshots and records of this. In addition, I know at least two men who have had problematic experiences with Massey’s anger, including at least one instance when he tried to start a physical fight.

I have personally seen Massey exhibit the frankly classic signs of someone who is capable of abuse, though we did not have a long-term abusive situation like those other women because I cut off contact as soon as I realized he was crossing lines. The first time I met him, he was the star poet at a reading. He was extremely drunk and told me several times, in front of a large crowd of published writers and my partner, that he thought I was hot. I ignored it because every time he said it, he would then loudly cite depression and anxiety as reasons for acting out. It seemed this was his public persona—everyone’s attitude was, “It’s just Joseph being Joseph.” I became friends with him years later, though I should have known better; someone had even warned me about him and his “grooming” behavior. He ended up having an outburst at me in manner that was extremely inappropriate and that mirrored many of the stories I have since heard. I have reason to believe it was because he felt entitled to be romantic and/or sexual with me, even though I never remotely showed interest.

Massey has himself spoken publicly about his behavior. Below is a screenshot of an FB post he recently wrote after someone sent University of Georgia Press a note warning them about him. He deleted it soon after:

massey screenshot

Here, he clearly admits to his long-term anger problem, states he has been “nasty”, “vicious”, an “out-of-control person” who’s had “outbursts” and “lost his calm”. Yet he implicitly blames the victims of those behaviors for “ruining his life” and driving him to suicidality. His chronic conflation of mental illness with predation, and his belief that anybody else is responsible for ruining him, is astounding and speaks to his skewed ideas about the nature of abuse. This lack of accountability leaves every reason to believe he is still at high risk for bullying and abusing. Note: Massey quickly deleted the above post, then followed up with a post about how he can’t drop out of poetry after all.

I’m anonymous because I don’t know how to help in this situation without getting “in trouble” with employers, literary establishments, or Massey himself, whose positive literary reputation and wide networks would allow him the ability to make accusers look like liars if he wanted. Ultimately, women and victims shouldn’t be scrambling to right these wrongs, with the only safe choice being an anonymous letter. It is on men, institutions like yours, and anybody who holds cultural and social power to be doing this work. Most likely this will come out about Massey eventually, and people will look for signs of whether or not you knew. I hope you end relations with him and make a public statement about it, especially in light of cultural shifts around believing victims.