The Michigan Daily - Weekend etc. - March 11, 1993 - Page 3
Funeral director turns poet
by Marc Olender _
Thomas Lynch is a poet who grew up in small
towns. "I like small places, they can absorb the
village idiot and the village drunkard," Lynch said,
"A small place can take care of them, and obviously,
big places don't."
Lynch finds this personable characteristic in his
hometown of Milford, Michigan, where he is a
funeral director. Lynch went into the family funeral
business because he liked the connections it wove
between him and his clients.
"When you're dealing with people in a difficult
time," he said, "You become intimate with their
family in ways that you wouldn't if it wasn't some-
thing as horrendous as a death in the family."
Despite the fact that he is constantly surrounded
by death, Lynch stressed that his writing comes out
of his relationships with the living and not with the
dead. "People think that an undertaker has so much
to do with this dead human body," he explained,
"There's one dead guy for every funeral. There's
about 150 living people forevery funeral. Undertak-
ers deal far more with the living than they deal with
Death, however, is a recurring theme in his work.
For instance, in his poem, "Learning Gravity," Lynch
writes, "A fierce affection is a thing like death." le
explained, "I think (that idea) proceeds from the
natural connections between love and death. For
example, when you're dead and when you're mak-
ing love, you're usually horizontal, and you're cer-
tainly out of breath."
Lynch's poems accentuate the cycle of life and
death, something he says our culture has pulled away
from. "There was a time when death was seen much
more as a part of life than it is now," he said.
Lynch said this has a lot to do with our society's
focus on mobility, and the automobile pulling people
away from the past, when "everybody stayed put."
"You got born in a house, you got sick in that
house, you got married in that house," he said, "You
died in that house, you got buried from that house,
and there was no garage."
Mobility is something Lynch is familiar with. He
sings "songs in praise of rootlessness" in the poem
"Learning Gravity" when he finds himself adrift in
his family's native land. "I first started going to
Ireland when I was about 20," Lynch said, "Even
though I was going to what were roots for me,
because I'm of Irish heritage, I was away from my
home. I was wayfaring."
Lynch feels that even through this rootlessness
and mobility, there is still continuity. His poems
focus on what is handed down, and what is left after
a death. In "Like My Father Waking Early," the
narrator has inherited his father's job as local under-
taker as well as the fear of protecting his family from
the death he deals with daily. Lynch writes, "Up-
stairs, my children thrive inside their sleep 1 Down-
stairs, I'm tuning in the radio/I do this like my father,
waking early /1I have my coffee, cigarettes and
I ynch's book, "Skating With Heather Grace," is
structured around the title poem, named after his
daughter. In the poem, the narrator's child skates in
widening circles, Lynch's metaphor for getting older.
"That's the duty of growing up, learning to keep your
center, keep your balance," he said, "But at a greater
distance from home."
In the poem, the father "leans against the side-
boards," watching his child skate by herself. "It's
like trying to teach a kid to ride a bike. At some point
you've got to let them go in order for them to learn,
as parents must do with children," Lynch said, "That
requires balance on both sides."
Lynch said this recurring theme of balance was
"dogging him" throughout the book. His poems are
filled with people pulled by opposing forces. "When
we have them in balance, we walk upright between
them, and when we don't, we're stumbling," Lynch
With all this focus on staying upright, Lynch
speculated that he had perhaps drawn the theme out
too much. "'Skating' is certainly a poem about
balance, and the last poem of the book is 'Argyle's
Balance.' I think that poem ends with the word that
begins the book," Lynch said, "I wanted a lot of
balance. It had to do with my toilet training, I'm
THOMAS LYNCH will readfrom his work along
with author MATTHEW SWEENEY today at
Rackham Amphitheater at 5p.m. Admission is
Okay boys and girls: Is this a poet or a stockbroker?
Straight from New York to a video store near you
You've read about them in the New
Yorker. You watched Siskel and Ebert
give them "Two Thumbs Up." You saw
their big ads in the Sunday New York
Times. You waited for them to come to
a theater near you. And that's the last
vnn ew nf them.
I'm talking about the constant batch
of films that open in New York but, for
whatever reason, never make it to Ann
Arbor. Despite what the distributors
might think, many of these movies are
quite interesting, even if they're not
masterpieces. Luckily, most eventually
come out on video. Though it's hardly a
substitute for a big screen in a darkened
theater, in this case, it may be the only
chance we'll ever get to see them. Here's
a sampling of some recent releases, in
roughly descending order of quality:
"Cousin Bobby" is a 70-minute
documentary directed by Jonathan
Demme ("The Silence of the Lambs")
about his own cousin, Reverend Bobby
Castle, whom Demme hadn't seen for
30 years before making this film. In-
tensely personal, yes; self-indulgent,
maybe; but Demme's film shows his
cousin to be such a commanding pres-
ence that his life is interesting to people
other than his relatives.
Castle is an activist priest who pre-
sides over a parish in Harlem, a man
who truly makes a difference in a poor,
drug-dominated neighborhood. In the
'60s, Castle was controversial for his
ties to the Black Panthers; to this day, he
remains highly idealistic, a spiritual and
political hero for a neighborhood aban-
doned by government. Before Demme
delves into Castle's past, the first third
of the film simply shows, uninterrupted,
an inspiring, mad-as-hell speech by
Castle at a neighborhood rally for a
From this moment on we're mes-
merized by him, even though near the
end Demme strays too far from Castle
himself in trying to make Important
statements about society. The film was
shot by a number of cinematographers,
including Ernest Dickerson, and though
it possesses the crude feel of a docu-
mentary, it is still impressively slick in
the usual Demme fashion. And forcomic
relief, we get to see Demme stammeron
camera again like he did in his intermi-
nable Oscar acceptance speech lastyear.
"Storyville" comes from director
Mark Frost, who created and directed
"Twin Peaks" along with David Lynch.
It tells the story of a Louisiana senate
I'm talking about the
constant batch of films
that open in New York
but, for whatever
reason, never make it to
candidate (James Spader) troubled by
the shady political dealings of his late
father, as well as by an elaborate scheme
in the present to keep him out of office.
Though the mystery plot is uneven,
implausible and often incomprehen-
sible, Frostachievesaremarkably haunt-
ing sense of the inescapability of the
past. Jason Robards' powerhouse per-
formance as Spader's uncle embodies
the enigma of that past in himself. The
influence of David Lynch is present
here in the Frost's parade of whackos,
including a surly porn-film director
(Charlie Haid of "Hill Street Blues")
and a strange old fat guy - weirdos
straight out of "Wild at Heart." But it's
also Lynchian in a good way, with eerie
cinematography and music that turn a
commonplace Hitchcockian mystery
into something disturbing and memo-
"The Elegant Criminal"isaFrench
film which played the DIA for a week-
end last year but never made it to Ann
Arbor. It's about Lacenaire, an infa-
mous 19th-century murderer (also char-
acterized in Marcel Carne's "Children
of Paradise") who went to the guillotine
while seducing the public with his charm
The performance of Daniel Auteuil
("Jean de Florette," "The Return of
Martin Guerre") is the bestreason to see
the film. He perfectly captures
Lacenaire's wit, charisma, intelligence,
while constantly suggesting his poten-
tial for rage and sheer madness. Though
we like Lacenaire, there's always some-
thing alittle bit offbouthim thatmakes
him frightening. Yet the film merely
stays on the surface of Lacenaire, al-
lowing us to meet him without ever
understanding him. A clumsy script
which jumps aimlessly from flashback.
to flashback doesn't help either.
"Beautiful Dreamers" features
Colm Feore, star of the Shakespeare
festival at Stratford, Ontario. Feore plays
a 19th-century rural doctor who is dis-
gusted with the barbaric treatments for
the mentally ill. He's afraid to do any-
thing about it until he meets, of all
people, Walt Whitman (Rip Torn).
Predictably, when Whitman gives
the doctor a copy of "Leaves of Grass"
he's never the same again, as Feore and
his wife shake off all the repressive
powers of Canadian society and be-
come full human beings, while revolu-
tionizing medical practices.(The film is
based on a true story.) Despite the sappy
plot, however, Torn and Feore both give
excellent performances - fans of
Feore's stage work will not be disap-
pointed with his quiet, subtle work here.
"Falling from Grace" isn'tquite as
badasit sounds: JohnMellencampplays,
you guessed it, a moody pop star who
comes home to rural Indiana to sort out
his life. The script, by Larry McMurtry
("Lonesome Dove," "The Last Picture
Show"), is not among his best work.
And though not a good actor,
Mellencamp does have star appeal, as
he dominates every scene he's in, and
even lends a sincerity to some rather
trite scenes of small town life.
These are just a few of the recent
releases - other interesting-looking
titles include "Guncrazy" with James
LeGros, "Where the Day Takes You"
with Lara Flynn Boyle, "London Kills
Me" and "South Central." Rent'em and
let us know if they're any good.
19 5o e 4 1
in Ann Arbor'
s voted in The Michigan Daily
Best of Ann Arbor Poll 1992
715 N. University
(Next to Comerica)
1 st Seder - M
2nd Seder - T
H illelI will sE
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from Tues, April 6 to Tues, April 13.
onday, April 5
uesday April 6
pitality is available for the seders.
erve lunch and dinner each day '
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8704 W. Grand River
The great Jonathan Demme ("Cousin Bobby") doing the directorial thang.
The Fourth Annual
"Being a Part of the Future of Medicine"
Featuring Keynote Speaker:
David Ostrow, M.D., Ph.D.
Saturhay, March 20, 1993
9:00 a.m. - 2:30 p.m.
North Campus Commons
One (id Great Rlesults
Save time and money.
Advertise your sublet in our
Summer Sublet Supplement
Deadline: March 16
off on selected
Cvmnnrzi em Tnnirc .
Information and registration forms available at