| |The New York Times
IF anyone, including the Prime Minister of Japan, still thinks
cultural homogeneity something to brag about, he would be wise to catch
up on contemporary American poetry. One of the wonderful things about
Thomas Lynch's ''Skating With Heather Grace'' is its mix of accents and
settings. In his first book of poems, Mr. Lynch shows himself a master
of Irish-influenced invective, an echo of brogue recalling the days
when a poet's curses meant something. ''Let me say outright that I bear
you no / unusual malice anymore'' he writes in ''For the Ex-Wife on the
Occasion of Her Birthday'':
Nor do I wish for you tumors or
loose stools, blood in your urine, oozings from any orifice. The list
is endless of those ills I do not pray befall you: night sweats,
occasional itching, PMS, fits, starts, ticks, boils, bad vibes, vaginal
odors, emotional upheavals or hormonal disorders.
caustic humor is part inheritance, part the reaction to modern culture
of a poet caught between two worlds. Settled comfortably into
middle-class Michigan life, he visits Ireland to refresh his memory, as
it were, of a time when people lived and died at one with their
beliefs. What sends him back is less nostalgia than terror - the fear
of death against which the present day's lack of vision leaves him
undefended. Mr. Lynch, by no means incidentally, earns his living as an
undertaker; mortality is this book's underlying theme. The dire
struggle in these poems - and despite strong domestic leanings, Mr.
Lynch appears driven to extremes - is balancing life's opposing forces.
It's a dilemma he approaches with particular elegance in the title
poem, in which he watches his young daughter ''widening her circles''
in a skating rink. Poised and self-assured beyond all his expectations,
she sets an example for dealing with uncertainty: She finds a shaky
nine-year-old to skate around in counter-clockwise orbits, laughing. Is
it more willingness than balance? Is letting go the thing that keeps
her steady? I lean against the sideboards sipping coffee. I keep a
A clever poet, Mr. Lynch never places too much
emphasis on technique. His loose iambic lines give him just the support
from tradition that he needs, while the irregular rhymes show both a
love of the lyric and a crusty refusal to be tamed. Song is a recurring
motif; it keeps the poet balanced, whether he is faced with the wildly
exhilarating or the deadly ordinary.
This powerful, provocative collection of 42 poems introduces a poet who speaks with authority and eloquence. Often his subjects are commonplace his wife, dog and children, his work and the poems are set at home in Michigan and abroad, in Ireland and Italy. (Several of the pieces are about Argyle, a mythic Irish character.) Like his father, Lynch is an undertaker, and the poems that address death here are sagacious and overcome the risk of morbidity by embracing life while facing death. Other standouts are his tender meditation on his daughter, "Skating with Heather Grace," and the heartfelt, gritty perceptions of "Tatyana." Most of the pieces are composed in pentameters, the majority written in a capricious blank verse. Although at times the meter suffers from excessive use of run-over lines, elsewhere there is grace and control, indeed virtuosity. Lynch is a poet with something to say and something worth listening to.
Rosaly DeMaios Roffman, English Dept., Indiana Univ. of Pennsylvania Library Journal
First book, Lynch speaks directly and boldly, invoking ritual by bringing the reader close to its performance: "Soon as I am able/ I intend to turn/ to gold myself.'' A Midwesterner who earns his living as an undertaker, Lynch writes poems that unpretentiously rehearse the dreams of the dying as they celebrate the everchanging relationships of the livingof four children, of a marriage in transition. There is craft and careful language, at times a Yeatsian echo, as in the three ``Argyle'' pieces for the sin-eater of old Ireland who serves the dead. Throughout, Lynch traces his ties to the past, and though his poems sometimes dazzleas do the metaphysical conceits of ``For the ex-wife on what I don't wish you''as often they are ways of ``learning gravity,'' Heather Grace's task in the title poem.
Reviewer: A reader
Excellent work of readable honest poetry, June 16, 1997
Thomas Lynch is one of the great poets of our time. "Skating with Heather Grace" made me laugh, cry, think about life... and death... and the time in between. Even if you do not like poetry, you will enjoy this book. I have never read a poet more honest and creative than Lynch. Two of my personal favorite poems of the book (I have many) are called "Where it Came From" and "Woman Gardening." This would be an excellent place to start for someone first reading Lynch. It shows how clever he is as well as the great sensitivity he posesses for describing a singular emotional feeling. If at all possible, finish with "Learning Gravity," a brilliant poem (and the longest of the book - most are very short). It's a poem that can only be deeply appreciated when you get to know the author and his style as well as disposition. Don't be upset because he is an undertaker by trade. While that plays heavily in the book it is not the defining aspect of the man and his poems. Very Highly Recommended!