Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Poets in Profile: Matthew Tierney

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Matthew Tierney

Matthew Tierney's third book of poetry is Probably Inevitable (Coach House Books), a collection which has been called "a seven-year-old’s hopscotch brain filled with contemporary postmodern conundrums."

Today Matthew speaks with Open Book as part of our Poets in Profile series, talking to us about the other careers he considered, unlikely occurrences and the poets who knock his socks off.

You can catch Matthew as well as several other talented authors at the Coach House fall launch on Thursday, October 4, 2012 in Toronto.

Find out what inspires, confounds and delights today's Canadian poets by checking out our Poets in Profile series.

Open Book:

Can you describe an experience that you believe contributed to your becoming a poet?

Matthew Tierney:

Not easily. But I can describe experiences that contributed to my not becoming these:

  • Scientist (couldn’t stand the math and nearly flunked out of first year)
  • Doctor (I’m fine with my blood, just not yours)
  • NHL player (as a confirmed ectomorph I have a horrible centre of gravity and can’t take a hit)
  • Any other professional athlete (not enough talent)
  • Pianist (boredom)
  • Chess grandmaster (not enough talent)
  • Chess master (laziness)
  • Chess club player (Lisa Seider, who sat in front of me in Grade 9 Geography)
  • All of these not-experiences directly contributed to me becoming a poet.

    OB:

    What is the first poem you remember being affected by?

    MT:

    High school, Wilfred Owen’s “Anthem for a Doomed Youth.”

    OB:

    What one poem — from any time period — do you wish you had been the one to write?

    MT:

    There’s a Middle English poem, “Western Wind,” that has bobbed down through the ages, written by Anonymous. It’s quotable in full:

    Westron wind, when will thou blow?
    The small rain down can rain.
    Christ, that my love were in my arms,
    And I in my bed again.

    There’s something about being Anonymous to centuries of readers that appeals to me — not anonymous, mind you, that’s achieved easily enough.

    That second line is beautiful, don’t you think?

    OB:

    What has been your most unlikely source of inspiration?

    MT:

    I’ve been trying to get my head around this question and have failed. An unlikely source could be a person, or historical event, or field of study that one wouldn’t immediately associate with poetry — but even as I write the words, it strikes me as specious. Everything is fair game in a poem. No subject is unlikely because the subject of any poem is experience itself.

    Unlikely to me, then? There have been plenty of unlikely occurrences in my life, but the fact that they’ve happened is more unlikely than the fact they’ve inspired a poem, even a bad poem, which is dead-easy to predict. I could say something cheeky like “John Ashbery” because when I started writing I really didn’t understand what all the fuss was about and then suddenly I did. But to say John Ashbery is an unlikely inspiration for a poet is to say the ridiculous.

    I didn’t write poetry until my mid-twenties. I didn’t enjoy it. How unlikely that I find I’ve devoted my life to it?

    OB:

    What do you do when a poem is not working?

    MT:

    Submit it to the CBC contest.

    OB:

    What was the last book of poetry that really knocked your socks off?

    MT:

    I’ve said it before and I’ll continue saying it until I say something different: Canada needs more Mary Ruefle. After hoovering up her Selected Poems I’m reading her back list one by one. If you want to start somewhere and not look back — who wants to look back? eyes front ahead! — start with Cold Pluto.

    And then there’s Michael Robbins of Alien vs. Predator, a poet who doesn’t need any more positive notices though he’s going to get one anyway (blammo!) and from a self-serving source (he blurbed my book). His poems are many things, and one of those things is they’re better than my poems. Admittedly, that’s underselling it. My poems really have nothing to do with anything. His poems have everything to do with listening to the music, takin’ it to the streets and what fools believe.

    (Seriously, Tierney, Doobie Brothers? You’re going to delete that, right?)

    OB:

    What is the best thing about being a poet….and what is the worst?

    MT:

    Best thing: success.

    Worst thing: failure.

    If you think that’s infuriating, just count yourself lucky that I didn’t reverse it. It’s pathological, this compulsion to make a joke of everything. I’m sure there’s something in the DSM IV about it.

    But seriously, we are our best selves when we’re writing poems; poems demand generosity, imagination, empathy, intellect, you name it, the quiddity of human goodness, and for a wee time during composition we come to embody these qualities. I humbly submit that’s the best thing.

    The worst thing is still failure.


    Matthew Tierney is the author of two previous books of poetry. His second, The Hayflick Limit, was shortlisted for a Trillium Book Award. He is a former recipient of the K.M. Hunter Award, and has placed his poems in numerous journals and magazines across Canada. He lives in Toronto.

    For more information about Probably Inevitable please visit the Coach House website.

    Buy this book at your local independent bookstore or online at Chapters/Indigo or Amazon.

    Check out all the Poets in Profile interviews in our archives.

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