Matthew Tierney is the author of two collections of poetry: Full speed through the morning dark and The Hayflick Limit.

Tierney has been published in journals and magazines across Canada.

In 2005, Tierney won first and second place in This Magazine’sGreat Canadian Literary Hunt.

In 2006, Tierney was a recipient of a K. M. Hunter Award.

He lives in Toronto.

BCP: Why did you start writing poetry?

MT: Probably for all the wrong reasons. My friends were doing it, or I thought it’d be cool to publish a book someday, or of the novel or short story it seemed the quickest way to a finished product so I could moon about and, you know, wear my volatile, artistic temperment like an ascot. This’d be on top of my actual ascot.

BCP: What is your writing process?

MT: Double-shot Americano. Either laptop or desktop but no PCs please and internet a must. Headphones with something loud and familiar on. Another double-shot Americano. Some staring. Some Tetris. Likely a bathroom break. What time is it? I’m getting hungry…The clatter of keys. Delete. Then a burst, maybe 15-30 minutes of actual keepable work. Hey, look at me! Repeat staring, etc.

Read it over.


BCP: Your first book is about your travels in Japan, China, Russia, and Ireland. Why did you choose your first book to be about your travel experiences?

MT: They align well, don’t they? Travel is a source of the new, or the everyday askance, and this is what poetry is too.

I did most of my travelling in my mid to late twenties and whether a consequence of youth or cultural frisson it felt as though everything I did was important.

Grocery shopping, flirting, laundry, chatting with newfound friends. Because it was all happening on the other side of the world it was imbued with a poignancy that was uncontainable. Or so I felt.

The poem is the only thing that could match this emotional charge. I still believe that.

BCP: Who are your favourite writers?

MT: Sometimes too many to name, sometimes just one or two. Right now I can’t stop rereading Dean Young.

BCP: You have said that Russian poet Joseph Brodsky was a big influence on you. How? Is there a particular collection or poem of his that you feel influenced you the most?

MT: He’s an influence the way that reading someone whose poems you love can inspire you to do your own best work. I haven’t worked out exactly how but he brings a devil-may-care attitude to what he believes and explicitly endorses to be humanity’s highest endeavour. An electric combination. I love the absolute faith he has in his worth, borne out in reverberating, capacious verse. His verse is the arena rock of poetry.

I reread The Winter Eclogue several times a year. I’m shaking my head right now trying to come up with a suitable paraphrase…ah, not tonight. But go read it.

BCP: Your poem Trans-Mongolian Express is amazing! Can you talk about this poem a little bit?

MT: Thanks BCP. It’s been awhile.

The seven-day train trip that I took with my friend is in my memory an episodic, other worldy haze through a white sun-bright Russian interior. There’s so much time to think that you wonder at the end of each day where the time went. That doesn’t make much sense. Somehow the rhythm of the train intimates that the journey will never end, but of course it does.

The poem itself shuffles along in quiet lines with gentle enjambments, each section like the flash of a bulb; I forget how many sections now but flash-flash-flash, each as generous to the reader as the landscape is generous to the poet, but somehow as inevitable as Moscow. The end.

BCP: Trans-Mongolian Express was originally a chapbook.  Some old-schoolers believe that young poets these days are skipping the chapbook as a first step toward a book deal. Do you believe the chapbook is a necessary step?

MT: No. There’s no necessary step to a book deal—but a book deal is not what young-poets-these-days should have their eye on. By which I mean publishing a book of poems isn’t the last wall in the obstacle course.

Chapbooks have their own place in the publishing circle of life. I’m soon to publish a new chapbook with the fine young poets who run The Emergency Response Unit. The work simply fits more comfortably in a chapbook.

BCP: You are working on your third collection now. What have you learned since your first collection? How do you think you have grown as a poet?

MT: I’m better. It’s not even important I’m right but if I don’t believe I’m better then all is lost. Though that happens sometimes too. Lost is ugly.

There are specific ways I’ve grown. The only ones I feel safe articulating, the ones that’ll hold till my next anxiety attack, are these: I’m a keener reader than I once was, I work harder and award myself fewer flights of self-congratulation, and I know when to abandon a poem.

BCP: Small publishers and independent bookstores are dying every month. How do you see this affecting poetry?

MT: It affects the publishing of poetry—not sure how it affects poetry itself. 

My experience is much like any reader’s. Independent bookstores treat you well.  They are curated, and if they’re curated by the right people you can discover books you otherwise wouldn’t have discovered. I’d love there to be more of them and can only hope that for every bookstore that goes supernova it seeds another of its kind. Maybe that’s naïve.

As for small publishers, well, it breaks your heart but there’s a whack of poetry being published in this country so someone must be stepping up. I know that’s naïve. Willfully so.

As for poetry, it’ll survive simply because there’s nothing else like it.

BCP: With people having much shorter attention spans these days do you see poetry having a comeback?

MT: Poetry is in its happy place, as far as I can tell. I’m told the eighties (for e.g.) were horrible for poets. So first we should consider how good we have it. Poetry’s already come back and it’s wearing a tuxedo T-shirt.

Reading poetry takes more attention than populist forms of entertainment. If people in increasing numbers are reading and writing poetry (I’ve no hard data but it sounds like a “fun fact”), then it’s likely because it has an intellectual and emotional pull not found in the Cineplex or on your PVR. Poetry’s gravitational constant is just higher.

I’d be much more concerned if I were a literary novelist. Those long-running HBO shows are damn good. But as I said there’s nothing out there like poetry. For the individual drawn to it there are no substitutes and hence no competition.

BCP: Do you see the E Reader benefiting or hindering poetry?

MT: The e-Reader as delivery device will really only impact those books bought in large numbers. Sure, we’ll nose in behind the industry, sniff around, but I can’t see e-Readers having too much impact on the publication of poetry.

Indeed I can see poetry readers keeping the book in its traditional form alive.  Holding it aloft like a torch.

That’s likely an ill-chosen metaphor.

BCP: What advice do you have for young writers?

MT: This is the first time I’ve ever had this question, and I expect it’ll only become more frequent as I grow older. I’m having a moment, BCP…but hey, it’s not all bad, I get to dispense advice!

There’s poetry and then there’s publishing a book of poetry. (Insert Venn diagram here.) Don’t be too worried about publishing because there’s plenty of time for that; I know you don’t believe this but in ten years you’ll still be young, nothing will have passed you by. No one says their one regret was not publishing a first book earlier. Just doesn’t happen, so don’t sweat it.

Also, respect your elders.

Also, poetry is not a hobby. Take your art seriously.  Take yourself seriously.

Tune into Friday October 7, 2011 for a video of Mattew Tierney reading poems from his two books.


About Black Coffee Poet

Black Coffee Poet is a mixed race poet, essayist, and journalist who focuses on Social Justice, Indigenous Rights, STOPPING Violence Against Women, Film, and Literature.
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