NICHOLAS T. SPATAFORA Reviews
Manhattan Man and other Poems by Jack Lynch
(Reed and Quill Press, Inc., New York, 2008)
I recently happened upon Dr. John Lynch’s Manhattan Man and other Poems and discovered a treasure chest of sensitive, profound, yet reader-friendly gems. There is wisdom and delight in a variety of poetic forms, including works of prose poetry. Dr. Thomas Fink’s introduction to the book aptly tells us that “Jack Lynch has been receptive to various poetic modes without choosing to inhabit any fashion exclusively.”
Laments distinctively express the speaker’s emotionally devastated state and desperate wish for its oblivion, as in “Good Friday,” metaphorically depictive of the agony and ecstasy of the Christ. The book’s seed piece, “Janeen” and “Mother to Son” address loss and abandonment, the last bedazzling the reader with a clever and deceptively ironic variation between stanzas. “Manhattan Man” eulogizes the departed soul of the neighborhood vagrant. Indeed, “Janeen” is thematically comparable to my lyrical favorite, “My Blue Heaven,” where the narrator expresses his profound love for his emotionally disparate and troubled lover. “Evening” metaphorically discloses the lyricist’s paradoxical comprehension of liberty as a life devoid of projections and expectations, whereas an entrance gate in the allegory so-called simply and succinctly represents the eradication of interpersonal barriers.
Can modern poetry express spiritual themes and still be modern? In Lynch’s case, craft and content merge to answer positively. Reminiscent of David’s Psalm 102 in the Old Testament, “Good Friday” clearly symbolizes the emotional and physical anguish which Christ was compelled to endure prior to his resurrection. Experiencing a bleak moment, the speaker is longing for Easter Sunday to finally arrive and liberate him from misery. The speaker, like Christ, is crowned with “thorns of lassitude.” “I don’t want to eat wheat…” echoes Psalm 102:4 (“I forget to eat my bread.”).
“Some call you crazy;…//you’re not here anymore/but your music is/every night.” A man with “long hair and beard,” wearing a “primitive cloak,” orating sermons to the crowd and preaching about “ghosts” and “purgatory”—the figure is yet another representation of Christ, scorned and persecuted in life, now praised in death. “Manhattan Man” depicts a tragic Christ-like figure still mourned by his disciples in the streets. The
Manhattan Man is “everywhere” after his death yet living “with us always.”
The sorrowful “Janeen,” analogous to “My Blue Heaven,” depicts a man’s abject mourning over the loss of a loved one—“You were lost to us!” Written in open form, this lament addresses loss, or perhaps abandonment, but not to death and certainly not by a lover, as suggested by the use of “us” (line 25). The poet’s description of the subject’s rapidly altering physical appearance—“And the rich, strong color in your face faded”—suggests the likelihood of a tragic loss of identity or sanity that might befall the victim of a severe depression. The poet mines the emotional richness of his subject, leaving us with an indescribable sense of pain and sympathy for the young woman.
Abandonment is addressed in the free-verse, deceptively subtle ironic lament “Mother to Son,” wherein the poet cleverly employs a subtle, dual point of view between the first and second pair of quatrains, the speaker in the first two stanzas paradoxically portraying the son who was the recipient of the mother leaving home: “Forgive [your mother] for leaving you one night when she found love.” This is depictive of the indescribable suffering that a boy endures, losing his mother to a stranger of the night.
One of the many love poems personifies a blue-blooded crab that metaphorically changes her personality by moving sideways and changing direction “without notice.” Indeed, the speaker’s unconditional love for this “crab” is stupendously touching. Lines such as “it is more than worth the patience…” concluding this exquisitely written lyric suggest an incomprehensible love, adoration and unequivocal acceptance reminiscent of the New Testament (1 Corinthians).
I was particularly taken by the vivid imagery in the allegorical “Evening,” metaphorical of the predictable and ultimate end of one’s plans, hopes and yearnings, which enigmatically signifies the conclusion of freedom and the threshold of predictability, certainty and bondage. Two roadside travelers ultimately discover that life’s freedom ironically lies in the unknown rather than in the projected and certain.
The shorter poems are smart, witty, accessible and intelligent. “Gates,/no more/just you and me/opening and closing…” The repetition of “no more” is employed in “An Entrance Gate” seemingly to emphasize the transcendence of physical and emotional interpersonal hindrances that make opaque our transparency toward one another and inhibit our freedom of expression. The gate is, antithetically, in fact, a figurative interpersonal barricade brilliantly employed in this abbreviated, allegorical composition.
Mourning for the departed Christ figure in “Manhattan Man,” the emotional devastation of “Good Friday,” love for the sorrowful in “Janeen” and “My Blue Heaven,” pain for the abandoned in “Mother to Son,” the bliss of the beginning of true freedom in “Evening” and the wonderful end of superficiality in “An Entrance Gate”—these mature, varied poetic expressions offer sensitivity, anguish, humor and mystical qualities of this book.
Jack Lynch’s Manhattan Man and other Poems is evidence that the Whitmans, Dickinsons and Frosts are not lost with the times. There is form as well as a joyful celebration of language and sound.
Nicholas Todd Spatafora is an educator at Joseph Pulitzer Intermediate School in Jackson Heights, Queens and an English Professor at the City University of New York. He holds two graduate degrees from Hunter College in New York City and has enjoyed a successful career in education spanning twenty three years. Contemplating a life in Catholic ministry, he attended Cathedral Preparatory Seminary in New York. The author is a member of the Tao Society in Tai Pei, and prior affiliations include the Religious Society of Friends and the Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn. He and his wife Hsiaochen (Judy) reside in Flushing, New York.