Null Set

Poetry by Ted Mathys

June 9, 2015 • 6 x 9 • 72 Pages • 978-1-56689-403-6

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.

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.

About the Author

Ted Mathys is the author of two previous books of poetry, The Spoils and Forge, both from Coffee House Press. The recipient of fellowships and awards from the National Endowment for the Arts, New York Foundation for the Arts, and Poetry Society of America, his work has appeared in American Poetry Review, BOMB, Boston Review, Conjunctions, and elsewhere. He holds an MFA from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and an MA in international environmental policy from Tufts University. He lives in Saint Louis and teaches at Saint Louis University.

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. To purchase this title for use with a screen reader please call (612) 338-0125 or email us at info@coffeehousepress.org.


“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

Null Set’s task is to join the exactness of geometry with the messiness of poetry. While difficult to say which discipline fairs better from this partnership, it is refreshing to see the metaphorical transformation of math and the mathematical rigor of poetry.” St. Louis Post Dispatch

“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