cover image Null Set

Null Set

Ted Mathys. Coffee House (Consortium, dist.), $16 trade paper (72p) ISBN 978-1-56689-403-6

“This is not going to be/ transcendent,” writes Mathys (The Spoils) in his third book, a collection of cultured, emotionally vulnerable poems in which he seeks meaning within the bounds of the absolute while simultaneously reaching toward the unknowable, even via negation and denial. Mathys alternates between two poles, employing a “smooth mindlessness” as he luxuriates in making phoneme smash-ups and, more often, constructing logical arguments in an effort “To routinize/ failure into a form of hoping.” Perhaps skeptical of conventional poetic means of exploring vulnerability, Mathys overloads the system, crashes the hard drive, and then sorts through the bits. When an airline companion lists trinkets he once collected from the sea, Mathys “seek[s] these objects in clouds, work[s] to assemble them into a master scene,” realizing that “Content is irrelevant if I can find a pattern, but I can’t.” It’s possible for something to exist outside of the knowable set, a concept Mathys expands upon in the book’s final poem, “All,” as he meanders deep into stored memories for surprising, idiosyncratic details. The result is overwhelming: “I meant to do some good/ from inside the blown fuse, but confronted/ personhood.” In confronting the fear “that I’ve already said too much,” Mathys finds that it is “better to light a candle than curse darkness.” (June)