The January 8, 2016, edition of The Times Literary Supplement from London includes a review by poet Jules Smith of Pure Act: The Uncommon Life of Robert Lax, with references to Lax’s latest book, Hermit’s Guide to Home Economics, too. Written by poet Jules Smith, the review is thoughtful, careful and worth reading. You can read it here: https://michaelnmcgregor.com/2016/01/08/news-from-across-the-pond-pure-act-in-the-times-literary-supplement/.
Seeing the review of Pure Act in today’s New York Times Book Review made me think it might be useful to provide links to the many reviews and related essays, articles, interviews and podcasts that have appeared since the book’s release in September. In addition to those below, you’ll find over a dozen reviews of the book on its Amazon page.
Thank you to all who have taken the time to write about the book and Lax or publish his or my writings.
Image Update [link unavailable]
Open Letters Monthly–forthcoming January 1
Other reviews are forthcoming in Commonweal, The Christian Century, Books & Culture, The Catholic Worker, Logos, Cistercian Studies Quarterly, The Merton Annual, The Merton Seasonal and The Merton Journal (UK)
ESSAYS AND ARTICLES
“Robert Lax: Master Minimalist”–Introduction by Michael N. McGregor, Poetry magazine
“Kalymnos: November 29, 1968”–new poems by Robert Lax, Poetry magazine
“The Mystic from Morningside Heights”–by Angela Alaimo O’Donnell, America
“Life, Influences of Robert Lax Explored in New Book”—Olean Times Herald
“When the Greek Islands Were Hospitable to Strangers”–essay by Michael N. McGregor, The Christian Century
“Michael McGregor Keeps Story of Robert Lax Authentic”–by Juliana Sansonetti, The Fairfield Mirror
“The Hidden and the Tangible”–essay by Michael N. McGregor, BooksCombined
“A Kind of Breath, A Way of Breathing”–essay on Lax by Michael N. McGregor, forthcoming in early January in Notre Dame magazine
“An Interview with Michael McGregor”—University of Portland, English Department blog
“December 2015: ‘Nothing Is Too Small'”—Poetry magazine podcast, featuring Michael N. McGregor talking about Robert Lax
“Robert Lax: In Pursuit of a Life of Meaning with Michael N. McGregor”—New Dimensions Radio (15-minute version)
“A Celebration of Robert Lax”–a joint interview of Michael N. McGregor and John Beer by Paul Martone–Late Night Library, forthcoming February 2, 2015
“Robert Lax: In Pursuit of a Life of Meaning with Michael N. McGregor”–New Dimensions Radio (one-hour version)–forthcoming February 2015
Portland’s Oregonian newspaper posted a thoughtful and sensitive review of PURE ACT by Jim Carmin on Oregonlive.com on Nov. 5. Unfortunately, the online link to the review is broken, so I’ve re-posted the full text here.
The following appeared a few days ago on a blog called Golgonooza, run by Nicholas Colloff, who wrote the review. You can access Nicholas’s blog at: http://ncolloff.blogspot.com/2015/10/pure-act.html.
Oxford University Press, which is handling distribution for Michael N. McGregor’s Pure Act: The Uncommon Life of Robert Lax, has produced three videos in which McGregor talks about Lax’s friendships with Thomas Merton and others, his love of solitude, the relationship between his poetry and his simple life, and why he settled on the Greek island of Patmos.
After traveling with the Cristiani circus family through Western Canada in 1949 and finishing a draft of what would become his first book, The Circus of the Sun, in 1950, Robert Lax felt restless. His observations of the Cristiani acrobats and reading of St. Thomas Aquinas had given him a clear sense of how he wanted to live in the world and a name for it: pure act. But he didn’t know where he should be living or what he should be doing other than writing his poetry.
Aquinas had written that only God was pure act, but Lax believed that people could come close to being pure act themselves if they were filled with love. According to his definition, pure act was a kind of mindfulness–a practiced way of being in the world–and yet it was a presentness too–a spontaneous living-in-the-moment without self-consciousness or hesitation. Having heard that Catherine de Hueck had started Friendship House in Harlem simply by moving into a tenement and addressing whatever need was right in front of her, Lax decided to do the same thing in Marseilles, the French city that had scared him the first time he’d seen it.
Nothing lasting came from Lax’s months in Marseilles other than a strong belief that simply being a loving presence could be as much of a vocation as anything else. That was enough. Although he continued to roam restlessly in future years–traveling with another circus in Italy, editing a literary journal in Paris, and working for Jubilee magazine in New York–he had narrowed his true desires to three: living a simple contemplative life, writing the kind of poetry he wanted to write, and being a loving presence wherever he was.
It wasn’t until Lax left America’s commercialism and relentless ambition behind and moved to the Greek islands, however, that he found a place he could feel at peace. On the island of Kalymnos he discovered a whole community of fishermen and sponge divers who seemed to live lives of pure act, singly and together. The smallest gesture was both practiced and spontaneous, ancient and new. Everyone seemed fully present and alive. He settled among them to learn from them while writing his poetry the same way.
When politics forced Lax to move to the nearby island of Patmos, he was momentarily dismayed. But he soon realized that a life of pure act could be lived anywhere: circumstances didn’t matter. In time he drew people from the around the world to the island of St. John, where they experienced and learned from his loving presence. His pure act.