Against Equations: Bruce Meyer’s The Arrow of Time

The past—usually the distant past—informs many of the poems. If a book had to be summarized by a dictum, The Arrow of Time’s would be “Ars longa, vita brevis,” a reminder of how art outlives us all. Meyer’s tastes are classical, with painters like Rembrandt and Turner a favourite. Centuries later, their works still invite the question: What do we leave behind? There are references to Blake, Wordsworth and court poets. Elvis Presley is transformed into a “broken-hearted troubadour.” You can’t help but think Meyer belongs to a nobler era.

We find parallels between scientific and philosophical theory from earlier times and the use of traditional poetic form. The book’s five sections (expansion, increase, cause, change and entropy) derive from Arthur Eddington’s 1920s’ particle theory describing what happens to matter as it passes through time before breaking down. Intriguingly, Meyer writes, “Part of the world’s demise is not decay / but rearrangement.” Forms relying heavily on cycles appear throughout: Meyer uses the sestina best in “The Czar’s Dog,” a moving poem about a springer spaniel that survived the Bolsheviks’ execution of Russia’s last imperial family; memories of Saturday mornings spent at the barber shop are revealed in the echoing lines of a pantoum. As the poet asserts elsewhere, “What is not repeated vanishes.”

A quote from Milosz on how twentieth century poets are busy cataloguing life highlights the materialism of our times. Given Meyer’s fascination for what is lost, elusive or unfathomable, it naturally follows he wishes to catalogue the one thing the poets forgot. But when life resists tidy equations and everything slips from us, the act of holding on or encapsulating life becomes problematic. Periodically, the poet drops the desire to have everything work out so neatly and the collection starts to breathe. In “Mugs” the passage of time is grounded in the trappings of modern life to refreshing effect, and in “Anjou Pear” Meyer balances a taste for riddle with nostalgia to create a gorgeously evocative poem.

In the end, what illuminates Meyer’s work most is his sensibility. Informed by Christian heritage, with references to saints, church socials and the Crusades, his poems can be appreciated nonetheless for their reverence and hope. “You will not find suffering here,” he writes in “Pieta.” Regardless of what is mourned or lost, the tone of these poems is never bitter. Rather, in the face of life’s impermanence they are unfailingly tender.


Anouk H. Henri holds a Master’s in Poetry from Vermont College of Fine Arts and currently lives in Ottawa.



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