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Full Speed Through the Morning Dark

by Matthew Tierney

Matthew Tierney’s Full Speed Through the Morning Dark is supposed to be a book of travel poems. In it we read stories of Tierney’s travels in Japan, China, Mongolia, Russia, and Ireland. The main problem with this book is not that the travel stories are uninteresting, it is that they are not fully developed into poems. Most of them read like the background story a poet would tell before reading the actual poem.

Passages such as “On the opposite bed Vaughan’s writing another postcard./The door to our berth is closed but unlocked,/rattling in its metal tracks” read like simple diary entries. The poet’s job is not just to observe and note, it is to develop, expand, and elevate through language; to move the moment along to something greater than what one would jot to a friend on a postcard. That is why poems such as “Last Call,” “Sumos,” “Pallbearers,” and “Out and About” fail: they are amusing stories but lack depth and complexity of language.

Tierney’s use of italics is inconsistent and at times detracts from the poem’s rhythm and meaning. Placing “knock knock” in italics is completely unnecessary, and the softly whispered “enough” is lost after the reader has to pause for the word’s italicization. The line breaks in the “Two Lunar White” section constantly detract from those poems. And in the fifth section, “Honeymoon in Five Easy Steps,” the use of “aon,” “do,” and “tri” before each stanza of every poem is monotonous, not clever.

What Tierney should have done with Full Speed Through the Morning Dark was to develop and edit along the lines of the “Marchland” and “Burden” poems. These pieces contain much poetry within the prose and best illustrate that brevity and clarity usually make for better travel poems than wearisome journal entries.