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.]
In early October, a group called The Riga Project Choir gave three performances in Latvia of “The Arc in the Sky,” composer Kile Smith’s choral cycle based on Robert Lax’s poetry. According to the RPC website, “The choir is comprised of former members of Latvia’s top professional and amateur choirs, who now work primarily in other fields.” Smith reports that this was the choir’s first performance of a substantial American composition and the first presentation of his choral cycle in Europe.
Two of the concerts took place at the National Library of Latvia in Riga, while the third was performed at the Immaculate Conception Catholic Church in Daugavpils, in a heavily Russian ethnic area near the Belarus border. It soothes the soul to think of Lax’s poetry being sung so close to a war zone.
The concerts, sponsored in part by the US embassy in Latvia, were scheduled before Covid hit, which means before the war in Ukraine began. In another example of Laxian fortuity, they were postponed twice, allowing them to take place when the area most needed a Lax-like vision of peace.
Kile Smith speaks to the choir during a rehearsal for his Lax-based work. The choir’s director, Christopher Walsh Sinka, studied choral conducting under Donald Nally, the director of The Crossing, who commissioned Smith’s piece. Sinka lives in Riga now with his Latvian wife. Smith and his wife Jackie were able to attend two of the performances.
A few weeks ago, an older film called “Robert Lax — Word & Image” was posted to a “Michael Lastnite” YouTube channel. As I noted on p. 356 in Pure Act, Lastnite, a young man from Passumpsic, Vermont, began issuing cheap print versions of some of Lax’s unpublished poems in 1983, producing over two dozen in the next three years. Eventually, he “branched into sound recordings and then videos before filming interviews with Lax and many who knew him for a planned documentary.”
That documentary, completed in 1987 (with extensive research and interview assistance from Lax’s longtime friend Judy Emery) was never released. Before now, you had to travel to the Lax archives at St. Bonaventure University to see it. It’s easy to understand why: The images are blurry and, overall, it’s clearly the work of someone still learning the filmmaking craft.
Even so, the film is worth seeing. It shows Lax reading several of his poems and includes interviews with Lax himself; his sister Gladys; his two most important publishers, Emil Antonucci and Bernhard Moosbrugger; and others who knew him. There are a few shots of Patmos, too, as well as images from the Stuttgart Staatsgalerie’s exhibit of Lax’s work in 1985 (called Robert Lax: Abstract Poetry).
The same YouTube channel offers several audios of Lax reading his poetry, but the recordings are extremely poor, with Lax’s lovely voice distorted. They are best avoided. However, there is one other video on the channel: another hour-long presentation, that features shots of the Stuttgart show and of Lax reading. Again, the images are blurry, but the sound is good, giving you a chance to hear Lax’s voice as it truly sounded.
Video artist Susanne Weigner has produced several short, award-winning videos from Robert Lax poems. One of her latest ones, called “moments,” was recently part of a show in Taipei, Taiwan, curated by a group based in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Lax’s words are getting around!
This past spring, Cirkus Cirkör, the Swedish circus company that co-produced Philip Glass’s new opera, “Circus Days and Nights,” based on Robert Lax’s circus poems, asked me to be help with a video introducing Lax to its audience. The video won’t be released until dates for the opera’s upcoming world tour are ready to be announced, but Cirkus Cirkör has given me permission to give Lax fans a sneak peak.
I just watched the live stream of the premiere of new Philip Glass circus opera based on Robert Lax’s poems. Wow! It is a wonderful show! If you haven’t bought tickets for one of the performances, you should do so now. It runs through June 13, with all of the shows live streamed for just $12. You’ll never be able to see this show again for that price. If you love Lax, Glass, the circus, opera, theater, spectacle, life, order your ticket now: https://www.malmoopera.se/circus-days-and-nights-in-english
The new Philip Glass opera “Circus Days and Nights,” based on Robert Lax’s poetry, will be live-streamed starting with its premiere on May 29. The premiere is sold out, but you can still get tickets to other shows.
To order tickets (which cost approximately $12 US) and read more about the show, click here.