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.”
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.
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.
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Father DanRiley, 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.”
“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.”
I found this beautiful–and beautifully published–poem by Robert Lax in my collection of his works. The original is printed on three of four sides of two-foot-tall fine paper with cover sheets that are disintegrating. I don’t know who printed it or when.
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.
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.]
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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 shot off, he said, in
too many direc-
throw it onto the junk-
heap, he said,
out there where the wild-
For today, at least, let yourself be thrown out there where the wildflowers grow.