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The World, Our Current Arrangement:
Matthew Tierney's Probably Inevitable

Matthew Tierney, Probably Inevitable
Toronto: Coach House Books, 2012. 

Call Matthew Tier­ney a poet of entropy. Entropy describes how, over time, order moves toward dis­or­der. It is the rea­son that ice cubes melt, bal­loons sag, and birth­day cakes are eaten. In Prob­a­bly Inevitable, Tier­ney traces how things become messier and more com­plex over time—not because we humans are weak and fail­ing, but because that’s the way the world works. Con­sider,

With­out time’s invis­i­ble frame­work
I’d never pool tomor­row in my hotel bed
like heavy water, fazed by another night squan­dered
after a charm­ing num­ber of imports, domes­tic pre­mi­ums
then sad Coors Lights.

Yet as a frame­work, time is known only because things happen—as in, “Time’s not the mar­ket, it’s the bus­tle; not the price, but worth.” To start to get at that worth, that bus­tle, Tier­ney repeat­edly turns to the mea­sure­ment of time, point­ing out how con­structed, ran­dom, or inad­e­quate even our most rig­or­ously sci­en­tific approaches to mark­ing time can be. There are stan­dard, almost banal, reflec­tions on mid-life, such as, “Forty’s the stan­dard can­dle of phys­i­cals, / of earn­ing power and sex­ual regret….” There is the his­tor­i­cal con­struc­tion of time where, for exam­ple, “Julius Cae­sar pads 45 AD with two extra months, carpe diem by decree.” And again, bor­row­ing a very tech­ni­cal con­cept, nicely turned for sound and import, Tier­ney gives us, “A Plank time inter­val / is so vapour-thin there’s no before or after, / no report to fol­low the starter’s pis­tol, / no revenge to bury Mac­beth, no sketch artists.” But of course his con­cern is pri­mar­ily the expe­ri­ence of time, hear­ing the deaf­en­ing crack of the pis­tol (a clas­sic exam­ple of the move from order to dis­or­der). Indeed, in the cen­ter­piece of the col­lec­tion, the accom­plished “That Stratos­pheric Streak My Green Fil­a­ment,” Tier­ney takes up entropy directly when he writes, “The ini­tial ordered state cre­ates his­tory: / pell-mell drifts down, vibra­tions in air make sound.” It is a vision of attrac­tion and repul­sion, order and dis­or­der at play, where all we are given is the cer­tainty of change (“We’ve no cen­tre, / only sides to con­sider, mov­ing towards or away from either”). For Tier­ney, the fact that the cur­rent arrange­ment is only tem­po­rary doesn’t cheapen it, but makes it all the more rare, valu­able, full of promise, some­thing con­veyed in the lovely lines, “If it were nec­es­sary to tell some­one where I am, / I’d say the spheres of Kepler res­onate like ici­cles, / I’d say I have loved.” These are poems full of vibrant and unex­pected lan­guage, intel­li­gence and (thank­fully!) wit, pro­duced by a poet whose response to change, to the unex­pected, is to cel­e­brate it by lend­ing it form for how­ever long that form may last.


Andrew John­son is a Hamil­ton-based writer and edi­tor.


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