Matthew Tierney. Probably Inevitable. Toronto: Coach House Books, 2012.
~Reviewed by Andrew Johnson
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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