Thomas Lynch on Sex, Death, and Poetry

Chatting with undertaker Thomas Lynch about his writing

| July-August 2009

  • Thomas Lynch on Death

    image by Richie Pope

  • Thomas Lynch on Death

It’s hard to imagine two more circuitous paths to renown than the vocations of writer and undertaker, yet Thomas Lynch has somehow staked a successful career on both routes. In fact, his workaday pursuits feed on each other. His experiences as a small-town funeral director in Michigan fuel books that circle around the theme of mortality, such as The Undertaking: Life Studies from the Dismal Trade (Norton, 1997) and the poetry collections Still Life in Milford (Norton, 1998) and Grimalkin and Other Poems (Cape Poetry, 1994). His prominence as an award-winning man of letters has in turn made him one of the more famous and oft-quoted undertakers in the land, a dash of celebrity in a sea of black suits.

Lynch is hardly wanting for media attention—he’s been featured on C-SPAN, NPR, MSNBC, you name it—yet he didn’t grab our attention until his elegant voice began appearing on the op-ed pages of the New York Times. Amid the tense bloat and blather of political pundits, here was a writer who was turning around big thoughts with gentle humor and rare reason.

We were attracted to this interview from the literary journal Willow Springs, conducted by Megan Cuilla, Mandy Iverson, and Aaron Weidert, because of Lynch’s sheer erudition on a number of broad matters. “I write sonnets and I embalm, and I’m happy to take questions on any subject in between those two,” he explains. —The Editors


On humor and death:

“I don’t set out to write anything jokey. But I do think that the way things organize themselves, the good laugh and the good cry are fairly close on that continuum. So the ridiculous and the sublime—they’re neighbors. If you’re playing in the end of the pool where really bad shit can happen, then really funny shit can happen, too.”

A Widow Heart
12/13/2012 7:28:14 AM

excellent writing! very haunting raw real and part of our life on this earth; we come in and we go out. Life’s all about “comings and going’s” in one way or another. LIke the two bookends

7/8/2009 2:39:57 AM

I am fond of literature and poetry in general, but especially I like poems by Georg Trakl - usually find them at

7/8/2009 2:39:07 AM

I am fond of literature and poetry in general, but especially I like poems by Georg Trakl - usually find them at

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