An old Lax friend, Jose Rafael Revenga, recently sent this newspaper clipping of Lax (at 64) with priest and activist Daniel Berrigan in 1980 when the two were together at a Jacques Maritain Symposium. According to the caption, the two people with them are poets Anthony Walsh and Therese Lentfoehr. (Click on Lentfoehr’s name to read about her friendship with Thomas Merton and a listing of the letters they exchanged.) It was for this symposium that Lax wrote his remembrance “Harpo’s Progress: Notes Toward an Understanding of Merton’s Ways.”
To learn more about Daniel Berrigan’s fascinating life, read Jim Forest’s new book, At Play in the Lion’s Den: A Biography and Memoir of Daniel Berrigan, published in November 2017 by Orbis Books.
Another book to look at is: Daniel Berrigan: Essential Writings, edited by John Dear.
For those of you who aren’t on the mailing list for the Robert Lax Newsletter, here’s an interview I mentioned in the August issue, with Steve Georgiou, who has written several books about Robert Lax and is the editor of Lax’s In the Beginning Was Love: Contemplative Words of Robert Lax. It was conducted by Richard Whittaker, West Coast editor of Parabola magazine.
“I knew right away that a big thing had happened. I’ve never gotten over it.”
–Robert Lax on first meeting the Cristiani family of circus acrobats, who became his friends and inspired his thinking about life as pure act. He later traveled with them through Western Canada, performing sometimes as a clown called Chesko.
Note from M. McGregor: Last week I stopped at the Ringling Brothers circus museum in Sarasota, Florida, where the Cristianis used to winter, and found this video of the Cristiani brothers performing back when Lax knew them in the 1940s:
In April 2016 I wrote about the luminous paintings based on Lax’s poetry done by a talented young painter named Abbey Ryan. Lately, I’ve been corresponding with Abbey’s father Greg Ryan, who knew Robert Lax for many years. Greg sent me this image of the kind of thing Lax often included with his letters:
Greg and his wife Elizabeth Ryan are the author and illustrator of a lovely new children’s book about Thomas Merton called The ABCs of Thomas Merton: A Monk at the Heart of the World. It is a well-pitched and pleasingly illustrated introduction to Merton and his world for children age 6-10. You can find it on Amazon. Here’s the cover:
By the way, the featured image for this entry is a note Lax sent to Greg and Elizabeth when they were expecting Abbey, the “bright newcomer from the sky.”
I just learned that my keynote address at the International Thomas Merton Society conference at 7 p.m. (Eastern time) this Friday, June 16, will be live-streamed. The talk is titled “Harpo and the Clown of God: The Seven-Storied Friendship of Thomas Merton and Robert Lax.”
The other keynotes–by Scott Russell Sanders, M. Shawn Copeland, and Luke Timothy Johnson–will be live-streamed too.
To tune in, go to http://merton.org/2017/default.aspx#stream when it’s time for the talk and look for the blue box (where you’ll find the schedule too):
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:
- a general session titled “Robert Lax: In His Own Words.”
- 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.
- 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.
At the International Thomas Merton Society conference at Sacred Heart University in 2013, I gave a talk on the lifelong correspondence between Robert Lax and Thomas Merton titled “Decoding the Anti-Letters: A Whirling Dance of Wisdom and Wit.” Last spring, that talk was published in The Merton Journal in Great Britain. And now the Journal has made it available as a PDF online. You can read it here.
I’ll be talking about the friendship between Lax and Merton again as a keynote speaker at this year’s ITMS conference, to be held at St. Bonaventure University in Lax’s hometown of Olean, NY, June 15-18. My talk this time will be titled “Harpo and the Clown of God: the Seven-Storied Friendship of Thomas Merton and Robert Lax.” You’ll find full conference details here. I hope to see you in Olean in June!
I thought I’d end my summer hiatus (lasting into fall) with this short piece of writing by Jack Kerouac, in which he tries his hand at Lax’s vertical style. This is a letter to his girlfriend at the time, Joyce Johnson (who, coincidentally, was one of my professors in graduate school at Columbia University 40 years later). The “Robert” Kerouac refers to is no doubt Lax himself. The letter was sent in January 1958, four months after the publication of On the Road, when the friendship between Kerouac and Lax was strongest.
Kerouac’s letter to Johnson is from p. 116 in the book Door Wide Open: A Beat Love Affair in Letters, 1957-58 by Jack Kerouac and Joyce Johnson
I’ll be adding more new posts to this site in the days ahead.