Poet Thomas Lynch’s sensitive ruminations on sex and death

Paul Smirl

As a part of this year’s Fox Cities Book Festival, Lawrence welcomed Michigan-based writer Thomas Lynch to campus last Thursday, April 12. Having been featured in **The New Yorker**, **The New York Times** and **Harper’s Magazine**, the W.W. Norton and Company-published Lynch is undoubtedly a literary heavyweight. Yet, much of the buzz surrounding Lynch’s prestigious career has centered around his infamous day-job, working as a funeral director.

That being said, any infamy within Lynch’s character was absent during his stay at Lawrence, as the genuinely affable writer-undertaker read and spoke with great ease and modesty to a well-attentive Esch/Hurvis audience. Moreover, in his presentation, Lynch coalesced his multiple roles, paralleling and juxtaposing his lives as writer, father and funeral director to create a broad look at human will, fear and desire.

In his introduction for Lynch, Assistant Professor of English David McLynn noted the writer’s excellence in expounding upon the two main things humans think about: sex and death. Sure enough, Lynch’s speech was drenched with sexuality and demise, as his poetics encompassed a wide range of emotion surrounding humans’ inevitable ends and challenging urges. Lynch candidly explored death’s gentle, humorous and barbaric elements, while traveling through histories of lust and love.

Examining his annoyance with a pet cat, Lynch appeared to start his reading on a light note. Yet, his poem titled, “Grimalkin,” which begins, “One of these days she will lie there and be dead,” ultimately is saturated with the sad education of the writer’s son, Mike, who weeps for the apparently smarmy beast upon its burial.

Surely, “Grimalkin” treated festival goers to a slew of laughs, but Lynch’s smart examination of his own distaste for the cat, coupled with his son’s realization of his pet’s death, provided a somber introduction to Lynch’s multi-faceted looks into humanity’s reluctance to face death.

Replacing his fatherly gaze with the eye of an undertaker, Lynch traversed a darkly hopeful selection about an embalmer who prepares the body of a rape and torture victim. Having been brutally disfigured, the girl’s family has elected for a closed-casket funeral, yet the embalmer diligently works to restore the girl’s presence, so that her mother would be able to see her as she was, one more time. Through gross detail and emotional accounts, Lynch’s ability to capture the brutality and sentimentality of passing proved to go beyond literary bounds.

In many ways, Lynch appeared not so much as a crafter of great stories, but a preacher who calmly delivers hard-hitting sermons. From graphically metaphorical letters to former President George W. Bush, warm paintings of Ireland and distressed examinations of adultery, Lynch kindly touched on some of life’s grandest and most gruesome stages, showing us that while sex and death may fuel most of our actions, they are just part of the “gorgeous, terrible mystery that we are all a part of.”

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