By Matthew Tierney
Reviewed by Jorge Antonio Vallejos
While walking the strip at Word On The Street last week I looked at the many tables full of books, talked to different peoples, and enjoyed being in an atmosphere that celebrated the written word.
Publisher after publisher greeted me as I picked up books, read pages, and asked for catalogues.
“What are you looking for,” said Wolsak and Wynn Publisher Noelle Allen.
“Poetry. I run blackcoffeepoet.com,” I said.
Allen asked about the site. I told her the schedule and the types of stuff I do. She immediately pointed to Full Speed Through The Morning Dark by Matthew Tierney.
I’m happy that she did.
I’d seen Tierney’s books at small press book fairs in Toronto. I remember the cover well: blurry lights that race downward. And the title is catchy; you want to see what’s inside and experience the high velocity journey.
Once I opened the book I was not disappointed.
Tierney writes of his travels as a younger man in Japan, China, Siberia, Russia, and Ireland. You’re taken to sumo matches, pool halls, pubs, and one of the coolest and longest train rides in the world: the Trans-Mongolian Express.
As you read you’re not seeing through Tierney’s eyes, it feels more like you’re sitting beside him as he watches what he’ll later write down on paper. As a people watcher (I think most writers are people watchers) I really appreciated Night Watch. Tierney plays peeping tom to a man working out in the building across from his. You see the mans core lifting him up and down during a sit up routine, the tatami mats that make up his workout space and sleeping quarters, and the television that Tierney describes so beautifully:
Behind him the television flickers
like a candle near the end of its wick.
A glimpse into the life of one man, a moment come and gone like the flame of a candle that changes every millisecond. It’s lines like this that has my fiction writer friend say, “I’m scared and jealous of poets!”
Sumos is a poem about many things: big men smacking against one another, pool balls clacking loud as they sink and scatter, one friend dominating the other in a game. Drink after drink, fight after fight, sink after sink, miss after miss, Tierney records it all in 20 lines, some that would make my fiction writer friend cringe more than she already does:
Ed says “Remember the skinny guy?”
and leans into the first break a refreshing snap that
litters the table with possibilities. I remember a failed
attempt to soft-shoe right the sound of skull on skull
like the rip of gristle from a chicken bone.
Is Tierney talking about pool? Sumo? Competition with Ed? Thoughts on failure, his future? All of the above?
You get a glance at Tierney the writer in Trans-Mongolian Express: Beijing to Moscow (Second Class). He shares his excitement as a young traveler: “Punch a friends arm, board a train. Begin.” He acknowledges the privilege of being a North American traveler: “feeling good about ourselves the way you can from behind glass”. And the descriptions that have fiction writers jealous:
The door to our berth is closed but unlocked
rattling in it’s metal tracks.
This percussive language. Four days.
Then he writes of his own writing; how all of the above came to be; “passing a station full speed through the morning dark”; ink traveling from Siberia to Toronto to this Brown boy’s hands, words he’ll be studying for a while:
I shift my journal so the empty page catches sunlight,
wonder how much longer my pen will last,
how many more words are in it.
There will be no more pens till Moscow,
when everything makes sense again.
It all makes sense to the reader and especially to writers. I carry four to five pens with me out of fear that I’ll run out of ink while my ideas are fresh, the space I’m in is good, and the place being described surrounds me. Tierney has inspired me to write of my own travels, to play with language more, and to use quotes as prompts as he’s done in several poems.
Full Speed Through The Morning Dark is Matthew Tierney’s first book. I’m excited to read his second, The Hayflick Limit, and the third that is coming out in 2012.
Tune into BlackCoffeePoet.com Wednesday October 5, 2011 for an inclusive interview with Matthew Tierney.