Full speed through the morning dark by Matthew Tierney

Poetry is an ideal form for writing about travel. Individual poems capture moments and as a collection give the reader a literary photo album of the experience. Full speed through the morning dark, Matthew Tierney’s first collection, documents the poet’s travels through Asia, Russia, Ireland, and Wales. The book is divided into five sections, each representing a particular part of his journey.

The first section, “The Word For Ai,” takes place in Japan, and the end of a relationship is accentuated by the loneliness of an unfamiliar country. In “Night Watch,” the poet discovers that one is never completely alone in Japan:

In the building across from me
the man in white underwear
is doing his sit-ups.
Behind him the television flickers
like a candle near the end of its wick.
The area of his six tatami mats
the same as mine, only his.
Futon lies unmade
closet door ajar
bottle of wine on the nightstand.

Evening music
floats through screens all over Tokyo.
I’m sure if we stretched
window to window
we could grasp hands.


Each page has an additional poem written in haiku style in the top right corner. Some add a nice layer to their accompanying longer poems, such as this one for “Night Watch”: “Lighted rooms. / One after another / the windows go dark.”

“The Color of Sora” is also set in Japan but feels more comfortable. The speaker of these poems lives in Japan and is easy in his daily routines, but is still aware that he is an outsider. This excerpt from “Pallbearers” shows not only the cultural but also the physical differences between the writer and his host country:

Something is wrong the train hasn’t
moved in 20 minutes. Commuters run
off the escalators claim the remaining
spaces and if this were a boat
we’d sink. I’m buried to my neck
in Japanese my head rising clear
the first to go in a sniper attack.


The third and fourth sections, “Two Lunar White” and “Honeymoon in Five Easy Steps,” are trips taken with companions, the first with a friend and the second with a new bride. “I” becomes “we.” On the Trans-Mongolian Express from Beijing to Moscow, the poet takes less notice of his surroundings:

With dawn comes a steady sun,
a sadness you can’t place,
another name off the list
you swore you’d remember.
(“Trans-Mongolian Express” 48)


The focus instead shifts to a partnership with his friend Vaughan and the territory they have claimed in the train cabin. Other men, who sometimes occupy the opposite bunks, are strangers, “troll-like men that arrive in darkness.” The pair protect their space by non-violent means: “We’ve kept the berth locked all day, / drawn battle lines with our eyes” (50). The train, however, reveals their true intentions: “the cars jostling for position, / metal sucker-punching metal” (52).

With the honeymoon in Ireland the poet delves further into the bond between travelers, noting, “how difficult it is to be alone anymore” (“Gallarus Oratory Amid Fog After Gunning Around Dingle Peninsula in Record Time” 68). These poems are interesting but do not have the same depth as the Japan poems, where loneliness encourages more exploration of the culture.

The final part of the book, “The Face I Reflect,” combines family and country, as the poet visits his grandfather in Wales. In “Burdens,” there is the intimacy of the grandson trimming his grandfather’s moustache, but there is also a hint of fear at what the young man might one day become:

Grandad lives without humour
now, closes his eyes to life’s tasks.
Waits for the pressure of
a grandson’s hand to tell him
which direction to look.
I squint, lean close
but nothing comes clearer, no
thoughts, none of the darkness
he dreams in; only a face
I might recognize, in time.


Full speed through the morning dark is not just about physical travel. It is a spiritual journey through loneliness, companionship, and contemplation of the future.