Robert Lax’s 108th Birthday

Today is Robert Lax’s 108th birthday. Here’s a quote from him to mark the occasion:

“the words were like precipate that rose from a stream which flowed with remarkable consistency within him. he took them as they came, often ungrammatical, often incorrect, and not infrequently of a character not to be used in gentle society. he wrote them as they came, feeling often that the errors, the incorrect and the gross expressions were the ones which told the most, conformed to the contours, the flow of the stream. for it was the stream, the nature of the stream, he had set himself now to reveal.”

[p. 303, Pure Act: The Uncommon Life of Robert Lax]

Happy Lax Day!

Robert Lax at Columbia University

I recently acquired a copy of the Columbia University yearbook, The Columbian, from 1938, the year Robert Lax graduated. It shows Lax being voted “best writer” by the senior class and serving as editor of the Columbia Review

He also appears in the university’s Hall of Fame for 1938.

Here’s his regular senior class listing.

I like this yearbook line about his poetry in the Review.

Note: The information and images in this post appeared originally in the Robert Lax Newsletter. To receive this free publication in your inbox four times a year, sign up on the left-hand side of this page.

Robert Lax at Play

I just sent out the fall edition of the Lax Newsletter with this photograph in it of Robert Lax playing the bongo drums when he was quite young. I don’t know where or when the photograph was taken, or by whom, but it is one of my favorites of him. I think it shows his true inner spirit at an early age.

The photograph came to me from Jeffrey Weinberg, who used a version of it on the cover of his 2014 letterpress publication Dear Jack: Heart Not Head. The limited-edition book features an intimate letter Lax sent to Jack Kerouac when they were good friends in the 1950s. You can purchase a copy, with an introduction by Lax archivist Paul Spaeth, from Jeffrey’s Water Row Books eBay page.

If you don’t already receive the free Robert Lax Newsletter, which goes out four times a year, you can sign up for it by clicking here or inserting your email address in the white box on the upper-left-hand side of this page.

In Memoriam: Robert Lax

Visiting Lax in his house on Patmos a couple of years before he died.

Today is the day Robert Lax died 23 years ago. It’s hard to believe he’s been gone that long. Here’s a brief quote from him (from my biography of him), in memoriam:

what a writer writes should have some relation (though not necessrily a discoverable relation) to the meaning of his life.

and the meaning of our lives should have some relation (to the meaning of the life of the world)

but the meaning of our lives, and what we write, and what we do, is somehow in us from the beginning: in this sense, the child’s only duty is to live and grow

Lax’s Writings in New Book on “Franciscan Lectio”

Father Dan Riley, OFM, has a new book out focused on “Franciscan lectio,” a variation on lectio divina, a traditional monastic practice involving meditation and prayer centered on scriptural passages. Today, many people of faith outside monasteries use not only scripture but other meaningful writings to center their meditation and prayer. In Father Dan’s book, for example, he says he includes more passages by Robert Lax than anyone else.

According to an article on the St. Bonaventure website, “Fr. Dan hopes to inspire one’s spiritual imagination in “Franciscan Lectio” through story, art, poetry, nature, Franciscan mysticism and Scripture – helping readers to see that all of life is unitive and sacred.”

Father Dan Riley, OFM (image from the St. Bonaventure U. website)

“I entered the project thinking Merton and St. Francis were my heroes,” Fr. Dan says, “but it turned out Lax and St. Clare played the prominent roles.”

The book, published by Paraclete Press, is called Franciscan Lectio: Reading the World Through the Living Word. You can read more about it (including what others have said about it), sample the opening pages, and order a copy here. It’s also available on Amazon.

A New Lax/Merton Center for Civil Discourse?

(image from the Mt. Irenaeus website)

Father Dan Riley, OFM, reports that he and a small group of others from different faith traditions have been discussing the establishment of a new center dedicated to Lax and Merton and committed to civil dialogue in an increasingly uncivil age. The center would probably be housed at the Mt. Irenaeus Fransciscan Mountain Community Father Dan founded near St. Bonaventure University many years ago. Here’s the community’s description of its location:

Mt. Irenaeus rests on nearly 400 acres of beautiful land in the Allegheny hills of Southwestern New York State, with seven cabins, large community House of Peace, Holy Peace Chapel, 10 miles of trails, labyrinth garden, reflective pond and other sacred outdoor spaces for contemplation.”

One possible design for the center is an octagon, to reflect that shape’s importance in several traditions. The building would also incorporate some parts of the Marcus cottage where Lax, Merton and their friends gathered during college summers, writing, making music, and practicing debating important matters in community.

The fireplace in the Marcus cottage.

Riley and others have been trying for years to find a way to move the Marcus cottage from the hills above Olean down near campus. Unfortunately, the cottage hasn’t been maintained, so it isn’t feasible (or cost-effective) to move the whole thing. Instead, they’ve secured pieces of the cottage to put in the center: the mantel over the living room fireplace and the sailing ship model above it, as well as the doors and hinges from the bedrooms Lax and Merton slept in. An expert is looking at the cottage to see if other parts are salvageable too.

Father Dan Riley, OFM (image from the St. Bonaventure U. website)

According to Father Dan, the center would be a place outside the Mt. Irenaeus Franciscan structures where people from different backgrounds could talk about issues of any kind, whether they came out of a faith tradition or not. But it would be “a mystical place, not just dialogic,” he says. Its core value would come from the root of the word “conversation,” which means not just talking but turning or changing together.

If you’re interested in being connected to the project or just knowing more about it, you can write to the Mt. Ireneaus office coordinator, Michelle Marcellin, at mmarc@sbu.edu.

New Lax-Inspired Mural in Olean, New York, His Hometown

(photographs © Marcia Kelly)

A major work of art honoring Robert Lax has been unveiled in his hometown of Olean, New York.

Painted on the walls of the Library & Liberal Arts Center on the Olean campus of Jamestown Community College, murals inspired by Lax’s circus poems now grace the spot where his father, Siggie, took him to watch the circus pull into town when he was a boy. (Note the railroad tracks in the foreground in the picture above.)

According to the Olean Times-Herald, more than 25 artists and volunteers helped “world-renowned muralist” Meg Saligman with the installation, and another 1,000 community members participated in “various summer paint day events.”

“Titled ‘Vantage Point: Our Valley of the Sun,’ the mural’s name is inspired by poet Robert Lax’s famous work, ‘Circus of the Sun,'” the newspaper reports. The project was supported by several local and regional organizations and is meant to celebrate those who live and work in the area. (One of Lax’s childhood homes once stood just steps away.)

Saligman–who grew up in Olean and went on to paint some of the largest murals in the United States–combined her own research with interviews with community members to come up with the murals’ designs. It was the discovery of the poems of Olean’s homegrown poet, however, that brought everything together.

To read more about the Olean mural, click here. To see more of Seligman’s work, visit her website: megsaligman.com.

[This post appeared first in the Robert Lax Newsletter. To sign up for this free bimonthly (or so) mailing, click here and enter your email address on the left-hand side of the page.]

Give the Gift of Robert Lax!

If you’ve been touched, inspired, encouraged, or challenged by Robert Lax’s life and writings, consider giving the gift you’ve been given to those you care about this Christmas.

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Happy Birthday, Robert Lax!

Today is the 107th anniversary of Robert Lax’s birth. I’ve received notes already from people who are celebrating it in Belgium and Russia. As a small commemoration, here’s the first poem in the best collection of his work, 33 Poems. It seems a good summation of how Lax viewed life.

the head of the commit-
tee said he couldn't use
it

it shot off, he said, in
too many direc-
tions

throw it onto the junk-
heap, he said,

out there where the wild-
flowers grow

For today, at least, let yourself be thrown out there where the wildflowers grow.

Happy birthday, Bob!