Underlife And Portico is the accomplished first chapbook of Massachusetts-based poet Michael Lynch, published by Aforementioned Productions.
In a series of minutely observant poems, the collection paints a picture of domesticity, of ordinary (perhaps slightly suburban) life. The images are familiar, even friendly: a bowl of oranges on the counter, a cafe, hedgegrows and Reader’s Digest. But there’s also another side to this set of twenty poems, in which these ordinary objects and scenes are underlined with a quiet and oppressive darkness. In this way the title of the collection is particularly apt. There’s the beauty of the portico, and the little-seen underlife with all its seething, quiet shadow. The two elements meld perfectly throughout, each balancing the other.
Indeed the collection is neatly divided into two sections: “I: Portico” and “II: Underlife”. Although elements of the dark and the light are to be found in each, those poems in the latter section lean (as might be expected) more towards the dark interior. There is a slight favouring of the anatomical in “II:Underlife”, as though Lynch is linguistically stripping away and searching beneath those pleasant images of oranges and cafes and hedgegrows.
In his writing Lynch displays a fantastic eye for detail, constantly throwing out quirky yet effective descriptions which surprise both with their use of language and their wonderful solidity. The movement of a tadpole, for example, is a “black tailwhip“, while the head of a blind goldfinch is a “frail turret“, the bird itself “helpless as a shuttlecock“.
In places, particularly early on, this attention for detail manifests itself as a kind of gushing enthusiasm which verges into humour. The repeated O’s of “Song of Suburbia” are a fine example of this. As the collection hits its stirde this calms down a little and gives way to a more intimate and earnest style, which only becomes more effective as the collection turns towards darker matter. No longer are Lynch’s descriptive talents aimed at tadpoles and goldfinches, but instead he writes of “vaseline on glass“, “light that blades through twisted blinds“, and fountains that are “frost-heaved and split“.
It’s a wonderfully smart collection, where not only are the individual poems insightful and well-constructed, but the collection as a whole is itself an elegant model of mundanity and the underlife that lies beneath.
Underlife And Portico is available from Aforementioned Productions, here: aforementionedproductions.com.