Null Set

Poems by Ted Mathys

Null Set experiments with cool lyric surfaces—mathematical forms, axiomatic thinking, tropes of negation—until they rupture unexpectedly, allowing in the warmth of intimacy, fatherhood and spiritual hunger.

June 2015
6 x 9 | 72 Pages
Trade Paper

Thanks to a 2013 ADA Access Improvement Grant administered by VSA Minnesota for the Metropolitan Regional Arts Council, this title is also formatted for screen readers which make text accessible to the blind and visually impaired.

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ISBN: 978-1-56689-403-6.



Null Set collects the slightly obsessive possibilities that rise when we give them the space—odd jobs, trouble-making, and farmboy rambling, all in dialogue with mathematics, or Faulkner, or other poets. Mathys musters the tropes of nursery rhymes and childhood observation to build reflections that lead to dark, complex work that’s provocative, rhythmic, and a little sly.


Praise for Null Set

“Mathys overloads the system, crashes the hard drive, and then sorts through the bits. . . he meanders deep into stored memories for surprising, idiosyncratic details.” Publishers Weekly, starred review

“Algebra and geometry: Mathys touches us by triggering our intellectual memories, reminding us of what we dutifully learned long ago, in school. It’s deceptively cerebral, Mathys’s way of moving us.”The Rumpus

“Spiritual crisis in the face of past and present ruin might remind us of Eliot, but here the stained glass windows of Christianity are broken.”Rain Taxi

“As I read Null Set, I watch Ted Mathys steer again and again between the Scylla of Yes and the Charybdis of No, the clashing rocks of Something and Nothing, Thesis and Antithesis, and sail straight through to a third thing: a swerve, a surprise, which is one of the tells that this book is alive. . . . we in turn tell books how we incline to read them, surprising them with analogues of which they’d never dreamed. It must be abstract; it must change; it must give pleasure—Ted Mathys, Null Set.”Bennington Review

“If you’re a poet, [a null set] can become a place to list numbers from 0 to 100, or a portal for the messiness of real life to break though even the most neatly constructed equation. That’s exactly Mathys’ aim in this book—even in poems with titles such as “Hypotenuse,” the cold, logical nature of math is never allowed to crowd out the human (or a sense of humor).”St. Louis Magazine

“Explosive and lyrical.”The Volta

“Intelligent and challenging while revealing a vulnerability that never reeks of weakness. Heartfelt and heady stuff.”—KDHX

Null Set begins with the word “Nothing” and ends with a dazzling sequence called “All,” and its mind is drawn towards the immaculate promises of conceptual absolutes. Its heart, however, clings to imperfect formulas—not those of math, but of intimate words and sounds. Mathys has a sparkling intelligence, a bracing capacity for wit and playfulness, and formidable technique, but the subject of Null Set is vulnerability: the struggles of bringing sufficient emotional exactness to acts of love, grief, devotion and imagination. This book asks poetry for guidance in a time of doubt. It yields, in turn, work of hard-won astonishments, moving, intense and humane. —Mark Levine

“Somber, surprising, pitch-perfect, and carefully intelligent, the poems of Null Set infuse me with renewed faith in poetry’s powers. I can almost feel new folds of my mind growing as I follow Mathys’s images, logics, and deep reckonings with language, world, and soul.”—Maggie Nelson

Null Set is a varied and vibrant book, with so much energy released in the encounters between its actively patterned verse and daily life. A cool surface often generates, unexpectedly, tender emotion—as one might feel at being moved by a Gerhard Richter painting. Through anaphora and other repetition, the poems accrete glimpses, anecdotes, resonant details, bits of family life and work, that can feel freely associative from one to another but resonate with a larger order. The effect is sometimes mournful, occasionally astringent, but finally joyful in the way that evidence outstrips argument. This is wonderful poetry, full of intelligence without pretense, its art put toward a world of feeling.”—Devin Johnston

“What impresses most about Null Set is how very full it is, how much of life is here. As we move through its virtual spaces—and as happens in strong poetry—the world comes strangely and familiarly both at and with us.  Of course, where we ultimately go (which may just be wherever we happen to stop) nobody knows, but Ted Mathys’ poems help us along our way.”—Graham Foust

“A said thing is only a said thing—though it may be true—but you can just as easily say the opposite. What if the opposite sounds just as convincing?  (What if you were to negate the most famous lines in poetry?) [Ted Mathys] negates and reverses exhilaratedly, ending up somewhere near happiness, which may be a verbal state.”—Alice Notley

Praise for Ted Mathys

“[Mathys] is a bit like the mid-century poets of the New York School of poetry (which counts John Ashbery and Frank O’Hara among its members), only with the whimsy replaced by a menacing sense of claustrophobia. You find he can go from high culture to low in one stomach-churning swoop . . . . wonderfully, disturbingly, upsettingly real. Reading Mathys, one remembers that poetry isn’t a dalliance, but a way of sorting through life-or-death situations.”—Los Angeles Times

“This is some first book! It opens with a haunting twist on the creation myth, and keeps on opening into big poems that are architecturally complex and socially attentive. Mathys has set them all in a postmodern languagescape of juxtaposition and refrain. These poems leap—sometimes dizzyingly—but they always land, and always on some new connection, lighting it up.”—Cole Swensen

“With a kind of ‘all over’ technique, Ted Mathys miraculously forges words onto the page in a kaleidoscopic voiceprint of the present zoom of daily life. This book hums and chortles, sparks and pops out of ‘the mouth of your gift horse held / open like a zero.’”—Peter Gizzi