Following the likes of John Cleese and Dr. Roscoe Brown, Thomas Lynch, poet laureate, came to speak at the eighth Ripple Endowment event last night in Mews Hall. An Irish-American poet, Lynch has published four collections of poetry, including Walking Papers which hits bookshelves this fall, three collections of essays, and has starred in two documentaries.
“We do funerals. It’s our thing,” Lynch said.
After a brief introduction from Richard E. Ripple, professor emeritus, faculty in residence at Mews Hall, and founder of the annual event, Lynch seized the microphone. Joking with the post-dinner audience, he confessed that he normally decides between Keith Olbermann and Bill O’Reilly at this hour.
“I embalm and I write sonnets, and I am open to take any questions in between,” Lynch began before reading his first poem. “Poetry is a fairly portable preoccupation — you can be burying the dead, cremating them, and [all the while] have something between your ears that no one knows about.”
In total, Lynch shared only three of his poems. He used most of the time entertaining attendees with insights into the writing of poetry, the job of undertaking and his personal life.
From a young age, Lynch explored the “magic” of language. He said that the Catholic bedtime prayers of his childhood as some of his first examples of rhyme and meter.
He discussed how poetry often relies on simple, common rhyme, noting that W.H. Auden’s poem honoring William Butler Yeats’ death rings close to “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star.”
Once he became “seduced by language,” Lynch started reading voraciously. Indeed, he said he believes that “writers are nothing but readers who go karaoke.”
Out of the poems that Lynch chose to read out loud, “Grimalkin” inspired the most conversation.
Written for his son Michael, the poem describes Lynch’s not-so-subtle desire to kill his son’s cat, Greta.
“It’s not felines I dislike — I just hated this one cat,” he added as a disclaimer.
Using “Grimalkin” as a stepping stone, Lynch told the story of his many attempts to kill the “fat, old, lazy, gray, she-cat.” Eventually, his 21-year old Michael buried 21-year old Greta in 1999.
Highlighting the irony in life, Lynch compared Greta’s longevity to the 21-day existence of the replacement kitten, Amy, who he actually grew fond of.
Just as Michael’s shoulders heaved as he buried Greta, Lynch’s younger son, Sean, questioned God’s intention as they dug a plot for young Amy just weeks later. Through the dark humor and irony of these two stories, Lynch underscored the reality of burying a loved one.
Referring to Michael’s need to bury Greta himself, Lynch spoke about the importance of personal involvement in the burial of loved ones.
Although older people mainly comprised the audience, a few undergraduates were present to hear Lynch.
Zachary Velcoff ’13, a resident of Mews Hall, had not known of Lynch until he saw an advertisement for the Ripple Endowment. After reading a few of Lynch’s poems online, he felt decided to attend the event.
While he thought Lynch was “a little bit crazy,” Velcoff liked “his insights at the end of poems about death and the meaning of life, on a backdrop of cynical comedy, such as admiring his young son [while] wanting to kill his feline.”
Other attendees also expressed appreciation for the way Lynch spoke humorously about dark issues.
Upon a recommendation from a friend, Ripple brought Lynch to Cornell because of his reputation as a lively speaker. Additionally, Lynch was already scheduled to give an address to local funeral directors, according to Ripple.
“We look for an inspiration,” Ripple said.
Perhaps intending to inspire budding poets, Lynch advised that attendees “go for a walk — the way Wordsworth did. Talk to yourself. If there’s nothing in your ears, your voice will fill in.”
Once Lynch concluded his readings, Ripple invited audience members to enjoy the cheesecake and candy over “informal conversation.” Meeting Ripple’s expectation, people chatted amongst themselves well after Lynch left the room.
“I will remember a lot of what has been discussed here tonight,” Dylan Beal ’13 said.
Original Author: Margo Cohen Ristorucci