Here are some of the reviews of The Poet’s Garage.
Originally published in The Lake
When I discover a poet I’ve not read before, my approach is always tinged with wariness and braced for disappointment. Quite often my forebodings are warranted. However, in Terry Tierney’s case I need not have worried. From the opening poem alone, “Painting the House White”, I was reassured. In Tierney we have a poet who knows what he’s about, who can deliver and do so consistently. The first four lines of the poem are reminiscent of the precision of early Gary Snyder:
Paint thick in the August heat
never seems to dry, moist air
heavy with sweat and mosquitoes,
resists my running strokes.
In the poem as a whole the language is pared back but also beautifully cadenced, placing Tierney in a line with poets of the order of James Wright, Richard Hugo and B H Fairchild. Like them, his work appears to be largely autobiographical but with a mythic, elegiac sweep that incorporates classic American motifs and themes. Furthermore, he bears particular comparison to Fairchild in terms of authentically portraying manual labour, in its vocabulary and rhythms but elevated to a striking but restrained lyricism, the kind to be found in Fairchild’s exemplary collection, The Art of the Lathe. Tierney’s, “My Old Furnace”, demonstrates this aspect admirably. Its subject matter concerns the removal of an old heating system and its replacement with a new one. The process is described meticulously and in so doing both captures and transcends the source material:
I did the work myself,
tearing loose the grasp of old vents,
finding lost passages and compartments
with papers too stained and brittle to read,
picking the floor joists bare as bones.
This leads on to another dimension of the collection where what is represented in concrete terms is simultaneously a representation of the mind, becoming particularly explicit in “How to Build a House”, where the construction of a dwelling is symbolic and oneiric.
Walk out of the bedroom and turn in a circle
until your eyes water, facing the wind.
Here you will place your chair.
This perspective links to another thread in the collection, not surprisingly given its title, and that is the foregrounding of the creative process. Such drawing attention to its own artifices might prove stilted or disruptive to the willing suspension of disbelief required of us as readers but Tierney possesses the gift of stabilising this approach in the realm of everyday concerns and observations. For instance, in “What the Seagulls Know”, the poet who observes and writes is counterpointed with what is observed:
ocean still as a desert,
only water, no gulls.
Most of them have flown here.
They pace the room expectantly,
staring as I write.
I know why they came.
In so doing, Tierney offers a further twist, reminding us of how all our lives are constructions, complexly interwoven with the world “out there” that we have created through our perceptions, ideologies and conditioning. While Tierney renders this world in poems of startling and spare refinement, what he ultimately offers us is a poetry of ideas.
A final aspect of Tierney’s work I’d like to draw attention to, which offsets what might be deemed his high seriousness, are the flashes of dry humour throughout the collection. This is most evident, however, in the title poem, which is noteworthy too for its fictional devices (it is no surprise that he has also written stories and a novel). In The Poet’s Garage the first person narrative concerns a poet who is under imminent threat of arrest for forgery while hiding out in the garage in question, leaving his wife to deal with the police officers. It could all be a case of mistaken identity. The officers are not to be swayed. The suspect is at the same time “smaller and larger, older and younger, a mechanic and a smith”. The poet escapes despite his house being staked out and begins “to forge/a new silence, a new name, a new library.” Writers are, after all, by default shapeshifters, protean. It is to Tierney’s credit that he recognises this and has forged a poetic that offers both the consolations and sometimes unsettling disruptions of poetry.
–David Mark Williams, poet and author of The Odd Sock Exchange and Papaya Fantasia
Originally published in the Midwest Poetry Review http://midwestbookreview.com/rbw/may_20.htm#markmurphy
We know we’re in for business when greeted with phrase ‘the white of death and forgetting…’ watching mosquitos flailing in wet paint in the last verse of the first poem. Tierney has a knack for pulling these pithy and sometimes beautiful epiphanies from the world about us. Weeping willows sprout like ‘green flares.’ In ‘Widows Peak’ apple cores ‘shrivel to nothing but sound/the persistent echo of ocean.’ In ‘The Museum of Personal History’ Tierney writes…
You clutch your memories like relics of saints
and snarl at me when I come too close.
You know I intend to violate them.
allowing the reader into his private inner world (though he walks ‘softly like an outlaw’) where we become the parched shoreline to his nourishing ocean of words. At once both lyrical and metaphysical, the poems in The Poet’s Garage are woven together with a lithe descriptive magic peculiar to Tierney’s work, leaving us wanting more of the poet’s proactive and provocative memories as we turn the last page of this fine book of poetry.
–Mark Murphy, poet and author of Night-Watch Man and Muse and To Nora, A Singer of Sad Songs
A House Full of Dreams
The poems in Terry Tierney’s The Poet’s Garage are often domestic scenes with sadness and human defeat just under the surface of beautiful imagery. Take the opening poem, “Painting the House White” for example, reminiscent of Frost’s “Home Burial” in its acute attention to detail, slipping in the facts of the sorrow along with the simple descriptions of painting, as if the painting were a coping:
down from my ladder, I watched
her long strides cross State Street bridge.
We never spoke after she left.
She seemed to shrink with time
…Something that stands out in a lot of the poems is the power of the land and the vivid attention to the land. This from “House Slide”:
The storm blows first in my mind,
wind and water spinning, shade trees
leaning down the grade, pushed by channels
of mud and stone,
pressing piers of our foundation.
But make no mistake, Tierney’s eye sweeps the whole world and even presents us with moments of humor…. Enter the poetry of Terry Tierney the way you enter a life, ready for surprises, ready for strangeness, ready for loss and beauty.
–Douglas Cole, poet and author of the engaging novel The White Field
Word Painting in The Poet’s Garage
Terry Tierney has a voice like a paintbrush as it slides across a smooth wall—before it bumps over the door jam and covers your bare skin with a thick streak of white. His poems combine images from a man’s daily life with vivid sensory details about his work, his women, his family, aging and death. The beautiful language used to paint thoughts and memories and personal philosophies submerge us in the poet’s world of working with your hands all day, drinking wine at night, building a home and watching the women you love leave you there.
The first of four parts in this very readable collection is focused on houses and women. The white of death and forgetting carries through as the poet moves from white house to white house, woman to woman. He even imprints one woman with a white tattoo when she leans a shoulder where he’s been painting the wall. In Tierney’s world, men paint and ponder the past, women move off into the future. This is cleverly illustrated in “My Third Divorce” in which a house is the ring for the poet’s series of bouts with his wives, the focus of their arguments, the locus of the torturous but unavoidable cycle of warmth and chill. There is a seasonal quality to both the house and the love affairs, and the poet uses beauty and dark humor to make this connection clear.
Women are still leaving in the second section of the book. One woman shows him her knives, her voice demonstrating a “stainless beauty.” I would say the same about the poet.
The third section focuses on aging and dying, while the fourth considers the influence of previous generations: the poet’s father, grandfather, and other older relatives, all men who had been to war. Their constructive and capable hands figure prominently as these strong, silent men built a good world from scratch. The final poem shares the point of view of an old homeless man looking through a cyclone fence at kids, at his own youth and the kind of freedom one has when the future lies ahead of you, outside the fences that keep us away from a life of warmth and love.
Tierney’s title poem is arresting and memorable. In “The Poet’s Garage,” it is the poet’s work that has gotten him into trouble, so he must flee the garage: Modifiers hanging on nails,/the cardboard box of active verbs, files/of proper nouns. No signatures remain/the author gone, only spaces where he worked./…I escape with the narrative. This metaphysical view of the writer’s life takes us into the meta realm, a reminder that Tierney can make you think deeply about just about anything, from painting houses white to the things that matters most.
–Mickey J. Corrigan, poet, novelist, and author of recent page-turners What I Did for Love and Project XX.
The Poet’s Garage, Terry Tierney’s debut collection is, like most garages, a wild mashup. Loss, patch-ups and re-building are the themes that stitch this collection together. In compact lines and gorgeous prose poems, Tierney speaks to what it is to be an observer, a recorder and a player all at once. From the “The Museum of Personal History”: “You clutch your memories like relics of saints/And snarl at me when I come too close.” Life is treacherous. Owning good tools helps. The Poet’s Garage reports on the breakage and repairs of assumptions and plans as only a skilled poet can.
–Joan Gelfand, poet and author of You Can Be a Winning Writer and the fast-paced Silicon Valley novel, Extreme
I love how Tierney’s poems shape-shift, capturing the elusive, slippery quality of reality: “I am both smaller and larger, older and younger,/ a mechanic and a smith. Look in the garage….” The Poet’s Garage is a rich repository of life in all its facets: old men’s stories, a lover’s scent, wet saplings, broken bottles, disappointments, aging. As poetry should, these poems awaken us to the aliveness and resonance of ordinary moments.
–Dorothy Wall, poet and author of Identity Theory, poetry and fiction writing teacher at San Francisco State University and U.C. Berkeley, Extension, and writing coach.
Tierney offers a multitude of spaces in The Poet’s Garage where different generations operate the tools they work with and preserve the memories and images of their lives: garages, attics, gardens, fields, boxes, and the water’s edge. In these spaces the poet reveals objects that resonate like lost memories whose existence becomes the palpable language and words—the very tools—of poetry. Tierney’s images–“Highway, wet, black / as cancer when it hits”—are powerful and precise, as they unify and divide into something that is always surprising and compelling.
–Jeffrey A. Portnoy, Professor of English, Perimeter College of Georgia State University, and Former Associate Editor, The Chattahoochee Review
Tierney’s poetry has a clear, simple narrative thread, imbued with imagery that’s tight, fresh, and surprising. It triggers readers to reconsider their own narratives, be it the thoughts they had when they last painted a house, recalled the smell of a particular flower, or listened to the sounds of an old house late at night. Tierney’s poetry is rich with images that evoke all the senses. His book invites us to not just read the poetry but to engage with it, to be delighted by his–and our own–revelations.
–Stewart Florsheim, poet and author of A Split Second of Light and The Short Fall From Grace
The Poet’s Garage offers a confluence of contemplative poems about ageing, nature, and memories. Delicately embroidering themes of separation, discomfort, misery and desires, the poet presents the readers an elegantly collated collection of poems. The title of this poetry book derives its name from one of the poems (with the same title) that talks about renovations in life. The poet’s garage symbolizes a place that houses words, thoughts and imagination. These are all intangible items. Once inside, one might not find the poet, for he would have escaped to a new place crafting a new alias for himself. The poem highlights the beauty of being a writer- one can create the world one wants and crumble it when the desire to live in it has been fulfilled.
— Enakshi J., educator, travel writer and blogger at http://aliveshadow.com