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Still Life in Milford: Poems

 
 
Amazon.com
"Still Life in Milford is--perhaps unsurprisingly--haunted by death. Its author, after all, is that most celebrated of poet-undertakers, Thomas Lynch of Milford, Michigan. Evidently poetry and undertaking are felicitous occupations for one obsessed with the larger questions, and Lynch finds abundant material in the vacant eyes of corpses, in the pages of small-town obituaries, even in the autopsy notes from Dr. Kevorkian's patients. Yet throughout, Lynch maintains a sturdy, undertaker's stoicism in the face of the cruelest ironies death has to offer. After all, he has "certain duties here. Notably, / when folks get horizontal, breathless, still: / life in Milford ends. They call. I send a car." In some ways, Lynch holds a pleasingly old-fashioned view of "the human hunger for creation": "the act of ordering is all the same--" he writes in the collection's title poem, "the ordinary becomes a celebration." And he does nothing if not celebrate the ordinary: small-town life, marriage, his Irish relations' hardscrabble lives. Yet beyond these poems' orderly surfaces lies chaos. Writing about a fatal car accident in "That Scream if You Ever Hear It," he addresses an (imaginary? internal?) critic, the one who tells him, "Rub their noses in it."
I know you don't need symmetry or order so that the biker died in pieces-- the arm with the tattoo reading SHIT HAPPENS thrown a hundred yards from the one with NO TOMORROW on it--doesn't impress you.
What will impress, he concludes, is that the bereaved mother's scream, when it finally emerges, "won't rhyme with anything." Faced with the unthinkable, Lynch can only shrug, bury the body, do his job as both poet and undertaker: "And if rhyming's out of fashion, I fashion rhymes / that keep their distance, four lines apart, like so." --Mary Park


Publisher's Weekly
"With one ear to the ground and another to the heavens, Lynch renders poems that echo mortality's solid thud. The combined perspectives of his two occupations--running a family mortuary and writing--enable Lynch to make unsentimental observations on the human condition, as reflected in Skating with Heather Grace (1987), his debut book of poems, and in The Undertaking: Life Studies from the Dismal Trade, a group of essays that was an NBA finalist last year. The poems of this third collection linger over Lynch's family history, the death of his father, and the recently departed residents of Milford, Michian, who come his way: "When folks get horizontal, breathless, still:/ life in Milford ends. They call. I send a car." He shifts easily between such wry provincialisms and coldly clinical recordings: "The scalp hairs are brown and long. There is dried/ vomitus on the face, around the mouth/ and on the neck. Natural teeth are present." Other poems invoke the Latin titles of Gregorian hymns in gently irreverent lyric poems that foreground the poet's Irish Catholic childhood ("I had a nunnish upbringing") and preoccupation with "the bodies of women,/ the bodies of men, their sufferings and passions,/ the sacred mysteries of life and death." "The Moveen Notebook," a long free verse elegy for the poet's grandmother, tells of an immigrant's affecting vicissitudes. Lynch's American Gothic narratives are perhaps best when read as extensions of his nonfiction work, but they are stand-alone compositions backed by a convincing poetic persona.


Library Journal
Lynch first came to our attention in 1987 with Skating with Heather Grace, an extraordinary book about ordinary life that spoke quietly and directly to readers. Since then, he has distinguished himself with the award-winning The Undertaking, a fine account that expands on his profession as a funeral director. That job clearly gives one time to consider issues of faith and mortality, and it's not surprising that the poems in this strong new collection deal largely with just such issues. Here, Lynch recalls his religious upbringing while considering "the problem of evil" and trying to maintain his equilibrium when faced with "another heartsore Friday full of sun." As he muses in one poem, "I had a nunnish upbringing. I served/ six-twenty Mass on weekdays for a priest/ who taught me...to keep/ a running tally of the things I'd done/ against the little voice in me the nuns/ were always saying I should listen to." These poems are undeniably--and understandably--dark-toned, but they make you think." -- Barbara Hoffert


Mari Hughes-Edwards
"To read Lynch's latest collection of verse is to acknowledge the centrality of impressions swiftly created, sharply observed and vividly reported....The strength of this collection lies in the poet's ability to open tiny windows into other people's lives and to shut them again just as quickly, leaving us disturbed by possibility; surrounded by an unknown, and an unknowing, myriad existence." -- Richmond Review


Kirkus Reviews
"Hot off the success of Lynch's recent memoir of his grim trade, The Undertaking(1997), comes his second American collection of verse, which includes the poems published previously in a British edition. A solid though hardly expert craftsman, Lynch imagines himself a "witness" to ordinary life, even if he's "better at elegy than commencement." And it's true: almost a cliché of an Irish Catholic, he dwells on death, sex, and the romance of the old country. Numerous poems linger on his father's bad health and eulogize his eventual death, which induces near panic in the poet who, elsewhere, dreams of him ("Kisses"). Of course, Lynch's job brings him close to death on a daily basis: "One of Jack's" is an autopsy in clinical detail; "That Scream If You Ever Heard It" effectively rubs our noses in the gore; and "Couplets" brilliantly outlines his work, which he hopes to pass on to his sons. A sonnet sequence, inspired by Gregorian hymns, surveys the sexual obsessions of a Catholic youth, from a not-so-sorry confession of sin to moments of guilt-ridden horniness, even as he later understands we invoke God most often in bed and at the grave side. Least effective are Lynch's tales from Ireland, some of which imagine a mythic hermit named "Argyle," who challenges the Church's authority, and others pay homage to Nora Lynch, the spinster relative who maintains the family property in West Clare. The considerable pleasures of this ample volume outweigh the sloppy bursts of sentiment and blarney: Lynch's crystal-clear voice often serves him well."


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