Shortly after Germany ended its coronavirus lockdown in May, the Kunstverein Röderhof Gallery near the small town of Halberstadt opened an exhibit called “Robert Lax Remembered.“ The show ran through the end of July. Here are some pictures of it.
Lax admirer Jörg Kowalski and painter Olaf Wegewitz designed the exhibit, which included “text flags” that were three meters long, photos by Lax and of Patmos, objects from Kowalski’s Lax collection, and materials from the Mailart project “PATMOS–PROJEKT: Hommage á Robert Lax.”
Lax’s majestic poetry cycle The Circus of the Sunis now available in Italian for the first time. This finely crafted and illustrated book is published by Il Ponte del Sale, a cultural association for both Italian and international poetry.
Il Circo del Sole, with text in both English and Italian, was edited by Giampaolo De Pietro and Graziano Krätli (with translations by Krätli himself and Renata Morresi, an afterword by Andrea Raos, and drawings by Francesco Balsamo. You can see one of Balsamo’s illustrations here.) The book is 126 pp. and costs 20 euros + shipping.
I announced this several months ago but now it’s official: “Circus Days and Nights,” the new circus opera by Philip Glass, based on poems by Robert Lax (with libretto by David Henry Hwang and Tilde Björfors), will have its world premiere at Sweden’s Malmö Opera on May 29, 2021.
Cirkus Days and Nights is a co-production between Cirkus Cirkör and Malmö Opera. After its premiere at Malmö Opera, Cirkus Cirkör, Scandinavia’s leading contemporary circus company, will take it on tour.
Here’s a description from the press release sent out this week:
“An entirely new work meets an entirely new form: Circus Days and Nights is a circus opera in three acts, written by legendary composer Philip Glass. Its inspiration is Robert Lax’s masterwork Circus Days and Nights, a collection of poems that draws us into the poet’s fascination with acrobats and the circus lifestyle and takes us on the road with him when he “runs away” and joins a circus in 1940s America. For Lax, the circus becomes a metaphor for life itself – the cycle of life and death –and for human yearning and striving. Circus Days and Nights will be a boundary-crossing performance that brings the circus ring into the opera house.”
You can read the full press release here and see photographs ofCirkus Cirkör shows here.
Some quotes from those who created the opera:
”I have had the rights to the poem for about ten years, but I couldn’t write the piece because I hadn’t found my circus. When I saw Tilde’s staging of ‘Satyagraha’ it struck me: Here’s my circus.” –Philip Glass
“In Robert Lax’s poem and vision of the circus as a metaphor for life, I discovered a soulmate and ever since, Circus Days and Nights has had a permanent place on my nightstand. In Philip Glass’s music, I heard the ultimate circus music, music that commingles with the circus disciplines. Having the opportunity to bring together these two sources of inspiration is dizzying and fills me with a sense of humility in the face of life’s breathtaking leaps of faith.” –Tilde Björfors
“I read the poems and I was really touched by their beauty, their simplicity in a sense, and yet their profundity. The way Lax envisions Circus as an act of creation and the cycle of putting up a show and taking it down is the cycle of life itself.” –David Henry Hwang
The course is part of being offered by the Franciscan Institute at St. Bonaventure University. Below are details and a short bio for the instructor:
Course Title: Robert Lax: Mystic Poet Dates & Times: June 8-12 | 9 a.m.-noon | Monday through Friday Presenter: Dr. Joshua C. Benson
This course will explore the life and mysticism of Robert Lax. Utilizing new biographical information and new sources from the Lax Archive at St. Bonaventure University’s Friedsam Library, the course will introduce Lax’s life, including his connection with St. Bonaventure and the Franciscan Institute, explore his thoughts on the virtue of Charity, and study his introspective poetic mysticism.
Dr. Joshua C. Benson is chair of the Department of Theology and Franciscan Studies at St. Bonaventure University. His prior research includes studies of St. Bonaventure and other Franciscans. His most recent research has focused on unpublished materials in the Robert Lax archive, some of which appeared in the recent publication of Lax’s “21 Pages and Psalm” by the Franciscan Institute.
Robert Lax became acquainted with Ernesto Cardenal through Thomas Merton, who served as Cardenal’s novice master when he was studying to be a monk at Gethsemani Monastery in Kentucky. Cardenal eventually left the Trappists and returned to his native country, where he served as Minister of Culture from 1979 to 1988, a tumultuous time in Nicaragua’s history. A celebrated poet, he did the Spanish translation for the multilingual version of Lax’s The Circus of the Sun, published by Pendo in 1981.
It was on this date, March 25–Greek Independence Day–that I left Patmos after meeting Robert Lax for the first time 35 years ago. I had been on the island for most of two months, the first month (before meeting Lax) all alone, thousands of miles from home. It was that time alone–that self-isolation–that set up the meeting to come and all that followed from it.
To read what it was like to be alone on Patmos in winter in 1985 and how it prepared me for the blessing of meeting Lax, go to my personal blog, where I’ve just posted a description of the experience: https://michaelnmcgregor.com/blog/
Franciscan Institute Publications at St. Bonaventure University (in collaboration with one island books of the Robert Lax Literary Trust) has just published a lovely little chapbook reprinting two of Lax’s best-loved poems, “21 pages” and “psalm.” The book includes a “prelude” and “interlude” preparing the reader for the main texts and connecting the poems to each other. It also offers a short afterword on each work (one each by the book’s co-editors, Paul J. Spaeth and Joshua Benson) and a brief note about the origins and publishing history of the texts.
One of the book’s most pleasing aspects is how it looks. Featuring an all-black cover with only the names of the two poems and the author in white on the front, it echoes the cover Emil Antonucci designed for Lax’s second book, New Poems, published in 1962.
This is the first in a planned series of Lax re-releases.
As I often do when I’m not sure how to think about something, I’ve
been musing on how Lax might have responded to all that is happening in
our country and our world right now. Self-quarantine wouldn’t have
bothered him much. He tended to self-quarantine most of the time anyway.
And he was used to staying in touch with friends only by mail or phone
or, later in his life, email. Even when he went out, he tended to keep
what we now call “social distance.” And the possibility of dying because
he was older wouldn’t have caused him worry.
What I think he would have been doing is spending more time in
contemplation. Not trying to figure out what a spreading pandemic meant
but simply holding himself in the moment, waiting on God, resting in the
reality of being alive. He would have prayed for his friends and for
peace in this time as in all times. And he would have written—poems, of
course, but also letters to the people on the long list of
correspondents he kept–assuring them he was okay, asking if they were,
making a joke and encouraging them.
Most of us live such busy lives, it can be difficult at first to slow
down in the way this virus is making us slow down. But once we do, we
start to see what Lax saw before he left the United States to live by
himself on a Greek island: Much of what busies our lives is a chasing
after things—a doing—that keeps us from simply being.
In a long meditation I quote on page 207 of my book, Pure Act, Lax wrote this:
“Deprived of being we have recourse to having, which is indispensable for us, and good, as long as we know how to use it largely and simply for our real needs. But there is a danger: having, in giving us many things (burdening us) weighing us down, gives us the disastrous illusion of making up for our deficiency of being, and we are always tempted to look for a (consistency) in it, to attach ourselves to it as to a security, and to accumulate more and more…instead of turning ourselves, as empty as possible, toward the Source of being who alone is capable of satisfying our thirst and giving us happiness joy blessedness.”
With our world shut down, now is a good time to think about our real needs, the illusions we live by, where our security lies, and what we are really thirsting for.
Yesterday afternoon, when my wife and I walked around the lake near our Seattle home, there were more people out than usual on a cold day. After the walk, my wife asked: “Did you notice that we didn’t hear the snippets of complaining we usually hear when we walk the lake?” I hadn’t noticed that, but I had noticed that the people we passed seemed lighter in spirit–less burdened than usual–despite the uncertainty the virus has brought. Freed of their usual busyness, they were able to slow down. Able to let go.
Slowing down. Letting go. Being. And loving. These are the things Lax would focus on right now, I’m sure. These are the things that will get us through this.
(This meditation originally appeared in The Robert Lax Newsletter–March 2020. If you would like to receive the newsletter, go to this site’s main page and look for the sign-up box on the left-hand side.)
Painter Abbey Ryan has spent a half-dozen years creating postcard-size oil paintings inspired by Robert Lax’s book-length poem “the light, the shade.” She painted many of the images in the series in 2017 while living on the Greek island of Patmos, near where Lax spent the last years of his life.
In this video, Ryan talks about how Lax’s attention to simplicity and presence has inspired her in her painting and approach to life. The video also shows a beautifully designed display of her Lax-inspired work at Arcadia University in Pennsylvania.