June 15-18: 2017 International Thomas Merton Society Conference Will Feature Presentations on Robert Lax

The 2017 International Thomas Merton Society Conference is coming up next week, June 15-18.  Because it is being held at St. Bonaventure University in Olean, NY, Robert Lax’s hometown, it will feature a number of presentations on Lax, including my keynote address, “Harpo and the Clown of God: The Seven-Storied Friendship of Thomas Merton and Robert Lax.”

The other keynote speakers will be: M. Shawn Copeland, Luke Timothy Johnson, and Scott Russell Sanders.

The other Lax features will be:

  1. a general session titled “Robert Lax: In His Own Words.”
  2. a showing of the Nicolas Humbert/Werner Penzel film “Why Should I Buy a Bed When All That I Want Is Sleep?” featuring a look at Lax in his Patmos home and reading his poetry.
  3. Lax’s Psalm with spoken word, dance and piano by Christine Bachich and Jacqueline Chew

Click here for registration information and here for a full list of conference presentations.

A Lax Exhibit at St. Bonaventure University Features Harry Jackson’s Life-Size Portrait

A couple of months ago, I made a post about the life-size painting of Lax done by Harry Jackson back in 1962 (see the original post).  I said in my post that I didn’t know where the painting is now.  Well, at this moment, it is in an exhibit of Lax’s writings and photographs at the Quick Center for the Arts at St. Bonaventure University, thanks to the generosity of Lax’s niece Marcia Kelly and her husband Jack.  You can read about the exhibit here.  Normally, it hangs in the Harry Jackson Institute in Cody, Wyoming.  Here’s the title card:

For those of you going to the International Thomas Merton Society conference at St. Bonaventure this June, be sure to stop by the Center for a look.  The exhibit just opened this month, so I’m sure it will still be around then.  Here are a couple more looks:

Coming in March: Visiting Professorship at St. Bonaventure University in Lax’s hometown

I’m pleased to announce that I’ve been selected to be the Spring 2017 Lenna Endowed Visiting Professor at St. Bonaventure University in Lax’s hometown, Olean, New York.  I’ll be on campus for the last two weeks of March, giving talks, visiting classrooms, meeting with students, and chatting with the Franciscan friars.

For more details about the Lenna Professorship and my time at St. Bonaventure, see this post on my personal website.

Concrete Poetry Conference in Honor of Robert Lax: Mar. 31-Apr. 1, 2017

St. Bonaventure University in Robert Lax’s hometown of Olean, NY, will be honoring him March 31-April 1, 2017 with a conference called  Never Abolish Chance: The Concrete Poetry Conference.

Poets and critics who were part of the Concrete Poetry movement in the later part of the 20th century embraced Lax as a kind of forefather and included his work in books and articles about the movement.  This helped to bring his work greater attention, including more serious critical study.

The keynote speakers for the conference will be John Beer, Renee Gladman, and Evie Shockley.

John Beer is the editor of poems (1962-1997), a selection of Robert Lax’s  poetry published by Wave Books in 2013.  His own works of poety include The Waste Land and Other Poems (Canarium Books, 2010), winner of the Norma Farber First Book Award from the Poetry Society of America; a chapbook, Lucinda (Spork Press, 2013); and the full-length verse novella of Lucinda (Canarium Books, 2016).

Renee Gladman‘s works of prose include Juice (Kelsey Street Press, 2000), The Activist (KRUPSKAYA, 2003), Newcomer Can’t Swim (Kelsey Street Press, 2007), and To After That (Toaf) (Atelos, 2008). Her recent title include Calamities (Wave Books, 2016), and the Ravicka novels Event Factory (2010), The Ravickians (2011), and Ana Patova Crosses a Bridge (2013). In 2014-2015 she was a fellow at Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University, where she worked on Prose Architectures, an interdisciplinary project exploring the continuum between sentences and drawings. Gladman has taught at several U.S. universities, most extensively as a professor of creative writing at Brown University from 2006-2014.

Evie Shockley is the author the new black, winner of the 2012 Hurston/Wright Legacy Award in Poetry, a half-red sea, and a critical study, Renegade Poetics: Black Aesthetics and Formal Innovation in African American Poetry (Iowa University Press, 2011). Her honors include the 2012 Holmes National Poetry Prize, fellowships from the American Council of Learned Societies (ACLS) and the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, and residencies at Hedgebrook, MacDowell, and the Millay Colony for the Arts. Shockley is an Associate Professor of English at Rutgers University, in New Brunswick, NJ.


Please submit 300-word abstracts for papers or 500-word abstracts for panels/roundtables to Concrete@sbu.edu. Proposals will be accepted until January 10. Accepted participants will be notified by January 25.

PURE ACT a Finalist for a Washington State Book Award

Pure Act: The Uncommon Life of Robert Lax has been named a finalist for the Washington State Book Award in Biography/Memoir.  You’ll find a full list of finalists and information about the awards ceremony here.

If you live in the Seattle area and are interested in attending, the awards ceremony will take place 7-9 p.m. in the Microsoft Auditorium at the Seattle Public Library’s central branch (1000 Fourth Avenue).

The ceremony is free and parking is $7 in the library garage.

Free One-Hour Podcast of A Celebration of Robert Lax

Late Night Library interview--12-9-15

Late Night Library’s Paul Martone (left) interviews Robert Lax biographer Michael N. McGregor (center) and former Lax literary assistant and poet John Beer (right) for an LNL podcast.

On December 9, 2015, Oregon Literary Arts hosted A Celebration of Robert Lax to mark the poet’s 100th birthday.  At the event, Michael N. McGregor gave an introduction to Lax’s life and work and then read selections from his biography Pure Act: The Uncommon Life of Robert Lax.  Poet John Beer followed this with a marvelous reading of Lax’s later poems from the Beer-edited collection poems (1962-1997) by Robert Lax.  The evening concluded with Late Night Library founder Paul Martone interviewing McGregor and Lax on their friendship with Lax, his approach to life, and his writing.

The entire evening was recorded and is available for free as a Late Night Library podcast.  You can listen to it here.  It is one of the best audio introductions to Lax and his work.

Robert Lax Week in the Bay Area

It was Robert Lax week in the Bay Area in mid-February.  On Thursday, Feb. 11, Michael N. McGregor, John Beer and S. T. Georgiou (who all knew Lax and have written or edited books by or about him) spoke, read and reminisced about their friend at City Lights Books in San Francisco.  Five nights later, McGregor read from his biography Pure Act: The Uncommon Life of Robert Lax at Pegasus Books in Berkeley. (The images below are from the two events.)

It was standing-room-only at City Lights as the three men talked about Lax’s friendships with Jack Kerouac and Thomas Merton, his avant-garde poetry, and his role as a spiritual inspiration for many.  Among those in attendance were Kerouac biographer Gerald Nicosia and Mike Antonucci, nephew of Lax’s first publisher and close friend Emil Antonucci.  The Pegasus reading was well attended too, leaving the Bay Area with broader knowledge of this important poet and spiritual figure.

McGregor and Beer will appear at another reading at 6:30 p.m. this Tuesday, February 23, in room 333, Smith Memorial Union on the Portland State University campus in Portland, OR.

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February 11 & 16: Robert Lax Readings at City Lights in SF and Pegasus Books in Berkeley

The life and poetry of Robert Lax will be be featured at two events in California’s Bay Area in February.  On February 11, Michael N. McGregor, John Beer and S. T. Georgiou will talk about their friendship with Lax and read from works by and about him at Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s famed City Light Books.

The evening is a celebration of McGregor’s new biography Pure Act: The Uncommon Life of Robert Lax as well as two recent Lax collections: In the Beginning Was Love: Contemplative Words of Robert Lax, edited by Georgiou, and new poems (1962-1997), edited by Beer.  This is a rare opportunity to hear three of Lax’s friends talk about his life and the time they spent with him in Greece.

Five days later, on February 16, McGregor will do a solo reading from Pure Act at Pegasus Books in Berkeley.

Here are the details:

Thursday, February 11, 2016–7 p.m.–A Celebration of Robert Lax, with biographer Michael N. McGregor, poet John Beer, and author S. T. Georgiou, City Lights Books, 261 Columbus Ave., San Francisco, CA

Tuesday, February 16, 2016–7:30 p.m.–Pegasus Books, 2349 Shattuck Ave., Berkeley, CA

Two Robert Lax Events in New York This Weekend: 9/19 & 9/21

Robert Lax will be the focus of two New York events this weekend:

1. 2-7 p.m., Saturday, September 19, at Corpus Christi Church, 529 West 121st Street (just east of Broadway): 

Pure Act:

“New Words for God”–The Uncommon Lives of Thomas Merton and Robert Lax

A celebration of the the 100th birthdays of Robert Lax and Thomas Merton, the 15th anniversary of the Corpus Christi Chapter of the International Thomas Merton Society, and the 15th anniversary of Robert Lax’s death.

Michael McGregor, author of Pure Act: The Uncommon Life of Robert Lax will present the featured talk.

The responding panelists will be:

John Beer, a poet and Portland State University professor, who served as Lax’s literary assistant on the island of Patmos in the late 1990s and edited Lax’s 2013 collection poems (1962-1997).

Judith Emery, a longtime Lax friend and editor of two of his books.

Marcia Kelly, an author and Lax’s niece.

The main presentation will be followed by a Mass at 5 p.m. and a gala reception after that.

Free for members of the Corpus Christi ITMS chapter.  $10 for non-members.


2. 7-8:30 p.m. on Monday, September 21, at McNally Jackson Books, 52 Prince Street:

A Celebration of Robert Lax

To mark the publication of the Lax biography Pure Act: The Uncommon Life of Robert Lax

Readings from writings by and about Robert Lax, with:

Michael McGregor, author Pure Act: The Uncommon Life of Robert Lax

C. K. Williams, poet and recipient of the Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award for Poetry

Richard Kostelanetz, multi-talented writer and artist, who once praised Lax as “a true minimalist who can weave awesome poems from remarkably few words.”

Paolo Javier, former poet laureate of Queens and author of Court of the Dragon

John Beer, poet, Lax editor and author of The Waste Land and Other Poems

Marcia Kelly, Lax niece and co-author of 100 Graces: Mealtime Blessings