Thomas Lynch: comfort in writer's block and death

By Poetry Foundation

Poet and funeral director Thomas Lynch reads as part of the Chicago Humanities Festival this Sunday, November 14. The event will close with an interview conducted by Poetry Foundation president John Barr, who writes about Lynch at the Chicago Humanities Festival blog. Harriet also got to chat with Lynch about writing, reading, and graveside preferences.


What line or poem do you find yourself sharing again and again?

"Dirge Without Music," by Edna St. Vincent Millay. I often read it at graveside services.

On your bookshelf but unread:

The American Language
by H.L. Mencken. I've been dipping into this book at intervals for thirty years, each time resolving I'll read it cover to cover. Alas, not yet.

Can you remember the first poem you read and really liked?

"The Lovesong of J. Alfred Prufrock."

A cause you would attach your name to:

A female pope.

The picture that comes to mind when you hear the word “poetry”:

A man hammering lobster on a flagstone floor: "great debris and great delight..."

If forced to quote your own writing, what line or poem would you provide?

Great debris, delight indeed:

so it is with this life, we

hammer at the moment till

all that's left is memorable.

Expression you greatly dislike:

"Don't ask, don't tell."

The longest amount of time you’ve gone without writing [creatively]?

Weeks. There is some comfort in writer's block—in assuring yourself that to get it you must be, first of all, a writer. But after a few days it looks a lot like plumber's block or real estate agent's block, and soon after that it feels like unemployment.

Favorite public figure:

I have a great respect and admiration for Barack Obama. I first heard him speak at Rosa Parks' funeral in Detroit in 2005. Then I read his first book. I've tried to listen closely ever since. He is a fine writer and rises to the occasion of language in a way I find remarkable. To political speech—mostly practiced by gobshites and gasbags—he brings real meaning and elegance.

Favorite literary device:

The keyboard.

When I think of Chicago, I think of:

Studs Terkel, Oprah Winfrey, John Frederick and Bonnie Nims, the collection of Impressionist paintings at the Art Institute, the walk along Navy Pier, a night at The Green Mill poetry slam with my daughter years ago, and the National Funeral Directors Association Convention in 2011.

Originally Published: November 10th, 2010