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BOOK REVIEW: THE CITY OF YOUR MIND |

Poet Sean Lynch released his first collection, the city of your mind, in December 2013 through Whirlwind Press, located in Camden, NJ. Lynch received the Frederick Douglass and Susan B. Anthony Award in 2009 for his essays on social justice. He is also the editor of a poetry collection by Rocky Wilson. I received the city of your mind from Lynch one sunny afternoon near Walt Whitman's statue at Rutgers-Camden. Steve Burns 

  • Credit: Rutgers University


In the city of your mind Sean Lynch stands before Camden and Philadelphia, structures garbed in police tape, chipped by 9mm rounds, spotted with mud from the Delaware’s banks — their streets decorated with spinal columns — and says, “Inside us stands a fence / crowned in razor wire.” At its core, Lynch’s first release is a collection of jagged pieces; impoverishment, isolation, violence, desperation, Lynch wades through the mire of the city and the mind. In many ways, these poems are “[a] eulogy for a / man alive.” Lynch depicts a world divided by sharp things, metallic boundaries; his power, however, lies in his ability to wrap his hands around the barbs and tug until his wounds seep sweet. On occasion, Lynch lays the muck on a bit too thick; luckily, Lynch’s moments of haunting, immediate, and sometimes strange, specificity keep his poems grounded in their respective cityscapes.



Equally palpable and phantasmal, “Fluid Interrupted” transforms Camden into a space sliced and secured by incarceration. Situating himself beside the Delaware River, which “meets Camden / at the site of a demolished prison,” Lynch witnesses the swirl of “[l]ittle umber hurricanes” beneath the river’s surface. There’s a tension lurking here. Above the moving water “stands a fence / crowned in razor wire. / Securing us from ghosts / of prisoners.” At first, it seems Lynch has created an ‘us versus them’ dichotomy, but that premise is quickly demolished as the boundaries transform: “Around us stands a fence / crowned in razor wire”; “Inside us stands a fence / crowned in razor wire”; “We are a fence crowned in razor wire.” Together, we are a species of ghosts, “a phantom testament” to systematic captivity. And the Delaware’s “muddy swirls”? Those, writes Lynch, “are our tears.”

Many poems throughout the city of your mind emulate the meditative, grave voice found in “Fluid Interrupted.” In spots, however, Lynch adopts a personal, almost casual, voice, which relieves us from his otherwise weighty despondency. “Dwindling Human” documents the approach of death step by step, but does so cooly — making the poem all the more sinister. “Keep thinking you’re / dying. / Perpetuating feeling / for years. Because if black is not looming / the thought is lost,” writes Lynch. Death lingers, waits, while constant feeling falsifies life (although I’d like to know what kind of feeling Lynch is touching upon). Then, Lynch commands, “Focus easy.” Lynch sweetly assures us that death is on our heels; look it straight in the eye because “[t]he ends is near / been learning from it. As if in limbo / been leaning on it.” Lynch relies on death to sustain him; it propels him forward, and he’s aware of it. Especially effective is the slight alliteration of “learning,” “limbo,” and “leaning,” which lightens the mood, eerily enough. “Easy now,” Lynch smirks.

“On a Corner of the ‘French Quarter,’” probably my favorite piece from the city of your mind, moves with rare precision, a familiarity with the concrete. Lynch begins the poem peering through a large lens: the “‘Big Belly Solar Compactor’ overflows with debris”; “[r]ich foreigners strut around”; “automobiles splash dirty rain water.” Each detail is being filmed by a “cameraman from Channel 6 Action News.” The world is literally ‘quartered’ within this mundane heap; “everything is dark.” Then, suddenly, the poem’s perspective shifts inward, towards Lynch, when someone asks him for change. Lynch replies, “[S]orry,” and closes the poem with, “I only have a few dollars to my name, / one more cigarette, / and something stuck / in my teeth.” We have moved, here, as close as we possibly can to Lynch. We are in his mouth, stuck on whatever that “something” is; transported from a news broadcast, to Lynch’s glossy enamel. This poem’s success lies in its momentum, its rich detail, and subtle murkiness. This particular poem, along with “Where the Usual Strangers Walk” and “These Sweat Stains Mirror Profound Pain,” are definite standouts (for these same reasons) in the city of your mind and I would love to see more like them.

Sean Lynch’s first collection was born in his stomping grounds, Camden and Philadelphia, and it shows. the city of your mind harnesses the gritty grandeur of vacant architecture, the weight and impossibility of rent, and the drip of pipe water to illustrate the dense agony of urban existence. Lynch does have his brighter moments though, and when they reveal themselves, they shine: “It’s raining. / There are no butterflies, but / I’m fluttering.”

 

To learn more about Sean Lynch and read additional work, visit him online. Interested in purchasing the city of your mind? Do so here.
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