Hyperallergic Website Reviews Lax’s POEMS (1962-1997)

Beguiling Simplicity: The Poetry of Robert Lax

A review of poems (1962-1997) by Robert Lax, edited by John Beer

by Louis Bury, posted on Hyperallergic on April 16, 2016


Lifelong friend of Trappist Monk Thomas Merton and abstract painter Ad Reinhardt, Robert Lax wrote spare poems that, in their beguiling simplicity, provoke anxieties about how and why we read. A typical Lax poem forms a narrow vertical column, each line of which is only one or two words long, that descends down the center of the page in repetitions and permutations: “one stone/ one stone/ one stone,” opens poems (1962 – 1997), edited and with a superb introduction by poet John Beer, “i lift/ one stone/ one stone// i lift/ one stone/ and i am/ thinking” (3). Such phrases, repeated and varied, make the reader aware, if not self-conscious, about the reading act. However, unlike other poets whose work causes readers to read themselves reading it, such as Gertrude Stein or e.e. cummings, Lax’s poems present no obvious difficulties or impediments to sense. Instead, stanzas like the above — difficult in their easiness, complex in their simplicity — lull the reader into committing the heresy of paraphrase: Lax lifts one stone and he is thinking. It’s easy, all too easy, to be lax when reading Lax.

The difficulty of reading Lax in part stems from a temporal dissonance. His poems contain so few words, repeated so many times, you almost can’t help but read them fast, too fast, much too fast, even as their form and content gesture toward a meditative slowness that remains just out of reach. “hurry/ up/ hurry/ up/ hurry/ up,” beseeches one stanza, only for the next to admonish, “slow/ down/ slow/ down/ slow/ down” (48). The two stanzas’ forms are almost identical to one another but their contents advocate for opposite reading cadences,each facilitated by the repetitive form. Quick: the reader can skip over the repeated words without much loss because she’s already read them anyway. Slow: the repetitions force the reader to take notice of them and slow down. The back-and-forth commands to “hurry/ up/ slow/ down// hurry/ up/ slow/ down” represent the simultaneous conflicting imperatives of Lax’s poetry (48).

–to read more, click here.

poems (1962 – 1997) (2013) is published by Wave Books and is available from Amazon and other online booksellers.

Author Monica Weis’s Lovely, Comprehensive Review of Pure Act in The Merton Seasonal

“slow boat / calm river / quiet landing”

Review of

Pure Act: The Uncommon Life of Robert Lax

By Michael N. McGregor

New York: Fordham University Press, 2015

444 pages / $34.95 cloth

Reviewed by Monica Weis, SSJ

The above words, etched into the gravestone of Robert Lax (1915-2000) capture the life and spirituality of this poet-solitary and friend of Thomas Merton. Michael N. McGregor of Portland State University has presented the literary world with a rich and graceful portrait of a talented and saintly man. Pure Act has already been widely reviewed in the New York Times Sunday Book Review (12/24/15), Publishers Weekly (9/15), America (11/30/15), Commonweal (1/*/16) and The Oregonian (11/4/15), to name a few. From them we learn that McGregor’s personal memoir passages are “vivid and engaging,” that this is a “warm, sympathetic literary biography of this complicated man who lived life as simply as possible,” and that Lax’s poetic subjects were both “visionary and ordinary, celebrating the apocalypse of the everyday.”

But it is Lax’s relationship with Thomas Merton that is of primary interest to the present audience, and Pure Act offers us keen insight into their meeting at Columbia University (1935) as well as the depth of their friendship evidenced in thirty years of correspondence and six visits. For sure, they were a salutary influence on each other despite notable temperamental differences. As McGregor perceptively notes, “Merton was a brilliant and tireless self-promoter, while Lax was often taciturn or tongue-tied in public . . . Merton was vitally concerned – in college and later – with finding answers, while Lax seemed much more comfortable with questions” (32). Yet both of them were not searching, as McGregor rightly distinguishes, but “pursuing . . . a sense of truth and of God and of themselves free from the expectations and trappings of the culture surrounding them” (78; emphasis added). Merton, for his part, discovered Roman Catholicism and his vocation as a writer and Trappist monk. Lax, a later convert to Roman Catholicism, remained a lifetime reader of Hebrew scripture and had, perhaps, the greater struggle and longer spiritual journey.

Bereft after Merton entered the monastery at Gethsemani in December 1941, Lax felt drawn to be with the poor in Harlem. In dire need of psychological healing and a philosophy of solitude – the dark aspect of Lax’s life that James Harford could not develop fully in his 2006 Merton and Friends: A Joint Biography of Thomas Merton, Robert Lax, and Edward Rice – Lax worked for a time in a menial job at The New Yorker which he considered a “toxic” environment. His unrest persisted because he could not write on command, preferring instead sudden inspirations he called “trumpet attacks” (103). He briefly tried his hand at teaching at the University of North Carolina, Connecticut College and a state college in South Dakota, and for a short period also wrote scripts for the Hollywood film industry; he traveled back and forth between Europe and New York City, worked as an editor for New-Story, was a roving reporter in Greece and Europe for Ed Rice’s Jubilee, and much later annually visited Paris and his publishers in Switzerland. In his early years, he seemed unable to settle in one place for very long, always needing a job and money to subsist, yet never abandoning his commitment to writing and reflection. By age thirty-five, notes McGregor, Lax willingly embraced poverty and a life of quiet, moving between Rome, Paris and Marseille, committed to his vocation of writing “that spoke of the beauty of God’s world. God’s people. And he could show those around him what harmony, grounded in love, looked like” (159-60).

From several comprehensive chapters we learn that Lax’s poetry gained a wider audience when Emil Antonucci, working as a graphic designer for Jubilee, began releasing hand-press versions of his poems (204). (It was Antonucci who illustrated Merton’s Original Child Bomb for PAX, a short-lived attempt by Lax to publish poems and art that would promote peace.) Throughout Europe Lax was seen as a forerunner of the concrete poetry movement, although he preferred to be regarded as a minimalist. The Merton-Lax connection was in the spotlight again with the 1978 publication of A Catch of Anti-Letters and a 1980 conference on Merton and Jacques Maritain in Louisville. For some unexplained reason, Lax’s talk, “Harpo’s Progress: Notes toward an Understanding of Merton’s Ways” was not given but later published in the inaugural volume of The Merton Annual (1988). Lax was again in the public eye in the 1984 PBS documentary Merton: A Film Biography, in Michael Mott’s The Seven Mountains of Thomas Merton, and in his invited review of the first volume of Merton’s correspondence, The Hidden Ground of Love, for St. Bonaventure’s literary journal Cithara. McGregor’s research unearths not only these connections, but also the complexity of Lax’s publishing history, his invitations for readings, a major exhibit of his work in Stuttgart, and his growing reputation in Europe. We experience his personal and literary struggles and triumphs. Quoting Stephen Bann’s critique of Lax’s poetry, McGregor offers two reasons why Lax’s poetry matters: he is countering the “overly secular approach to poetry” then popular and making “momentous statements about human existence in our times” (289).

Peak moments for this reader are the links between Merton, Lax, Mark Van Doren, and Bramachari, and the pull of the Olean roots which offered Lax the balance to his “attraction to urban energy and rural peace” (51). Also engaging is the extensive attention paid to Lax’s deep friendship with the Cristiani family whose circus act he followed through western Canada in 1949. This early relationship with acrobats who knew how to concentrate on the present moment inspired Lax’s poem-cycle The Circus of the Sun (thought by some to be the best writing of the twentieth century) and Mogador’s Book (1992) published almost fifty years after meeting Paul (Mogador) Cristiani. Lax was fascinated, too, by Limnina, the rug weaver on the Greek island of Kalymnos and the local fishermen/sponge divers who persisted in their age-old, dangerous practice of sinking deep into murky waters to retrieve their catch. Each – the acrobats, the rug weaver, the sponge divers – presented Lax with a contemporary expression of Thomas Aquinas’ notion of God as pure act: “when we act consciously and yet spontaneously, . . . we become pure act ourselves – we become like God. If, that is, we act in love” (25).

Lax’s extended years on Kalymnos offered him the physical and psychic space he longed for, and he often sent poems and journal entries to Mark Van Doren, whom he considered his ideal reader (273). Sadly, by 1967, his Columbia friends were dying (Ad Reinhardt, Bob Gerdy, John Slate), and also his brother-in-law Benji Marcus, followed in 1968 by the death of Seymour Freedgood and Lax’s soul-mate Thomas Merton. Lax and Merton had spent six days together the previous June with Lax planning to return to Greece and Merton to travel to Asia. McGregor remarks that after so many deaths, “the tenderness and concern between them must have been palpable” (291). Now Lax was more alone than ever. By 1972 he was shuttling between Kalymnos, Lipsi and Patmos, his three favorite islands, mourning the death of Van Doren, his primary audience, reading in the mornings, journaling in the afternoons and talking to the locals – reminiscent of what Thoreau called his “morning work” – a balance of wakefulness and work. Greek life, Lax said, taught him how to pray (314).

Lax’s journey to New York State’s Art Park for a month-long residency two days before the 1973 political coup on Cyprus, however, reinforced the islanders’ suspicion that this gentle man who chatted with everyone and took notes on all he was seeing was in reality a spy. His eventual return to the island two years later did not completely reinstate their trust; consequently, at age sixty-six, Lax settled on Patmos for the last years of his life – when fortuitously he met Michael McGregor. Only when his health declined in 2000 was Lax persuaded by family to return to his home in Olean where he died on September 26, no doubt surrounded by memories of the late 1930s when Lax, Merton and Ed Rice spent summers there as “literary bohemians” in their “Himalayan kindergarten” (80-81) reading Joyce’s Finnegans Wake and writing their own novels.

Presenting Lax as an embodiment of the “wisdom of simplicity” (11) and himself as a “naïve boy who had washed up on his shores” (13), McGregor becomes both unobtrusive character and reliable narrator in this text, connected to Lax by the author’s own need for personal searching. McGregor’s fifteen-year acquaintance with Lax, his voluminous research, and six years of constructing the twenty-six chapters of Pure Act entitles him to offer credible insight into the trajectory of Lax’s life. This is a readable biography interspersed with snippets of poetry, and pertinent passages from Lax’s journals. The text follows a loose chronological order, with chapters focusing on themes, then looping back to Lax’s life pilgrimage where, says McGregor, Lax had finally found “his own way of walking. His own way of singing the song. His own way of being pure act” (393).

I strongly recommend reading (and enjoying) this book, especially before the June 15-18, 2017 Fifteenth General Meeting of the International Thomas Merton Society at St. Bonaventure University, when participants will be able to visit the Lax family cottage as well as to steep themselves in a special exhibit of Lax’s poetry and journals curated by Paul J. Spaeth, Director of the Library and Curator of the Lax Archives.

Monica Weis, SSJ received the ** “Louie” award for service to the International Thomas Merton Society. Emeritus Professor of English at Nazareth College, Rochester, NY, she is the author of Thomas Merton’s Gethsemani: Landscapes of Paradise (2005) and of The Environmental Vision of Thomas Merton (2011); her new book on Merton and Celtic spirituality will be published later in 2016.



Jim Forest Reviews PURE ACT in The Catholic Worker

Bob Lax’s Circus of the Spirit

The Catholic Worker / January-February 2016

Review by Jim Forest

Pure Act: The Uncommon Life of Robert Lax

By Michael McGregor
Fordham University Press, 2015, 472 pages, hardcover, $35

In The Seven Storey Mountain, Thomas Merton recounted his memories of Bob Lax during their student years together at Columbia University. Lax was “a gentle prophet” who seemed to be meditating “on some impenetrable woe,” a born contemplative who could “curl his long legs all around a chair, in seven different ways, while he was trying to find the right word with which to begin.” Lax possessed “a natural, instinctive spirituality, a kind of inborn direction to the living God.” Lax saw Americans as a people “longing to do good but not knowing how,” waiting for the day when they could turn on the radio “and somebody will start telling them what they have really been wanting to hear and needing to know…. somebody who is capable of telling them of the love of God in language that will no longer sound hackneyed or crazy.” As Michael McGregor relates in this hard-to-put-down biography, in the course of Lax’s long life he became a quiet voice telling his readers about the love of God in language that is never hackneyed or crazy but is lean, surprising and drawn from deep wells.

It happens that Pure Act appears just as a 136-page anthology of Lax’s poetry and journal writing has been published by Templegate: In the Beginning was Love. The editor is my friend Steve Georgiou, who, like McGregor, also knew Lax in his later years and whose vocation as teacher was given its shape in large measure thanks to his mentor on Patmos.

Lax was one of the several friends who witnessed Merton’s baptism and it was Lax who, as the two of them were walking along Sixth Avenue not long afterward, asked Merton what he wanted to become. For Lax, the question wasn’t so much what to become as who to become. It was obvious to both of them that “Thomas Merton the well-known writer” or “Thomas Merton the assistant instructor of Freshman English” were not good enough answers. “I don’t know,” Merton finally said. “I guess what I want is to be a good Catholic.”

“What do you mean,” Lax responded, “you want to be a good Catholic?” Merton was silent — he hadn’t figured that out yet. “What you should say,” Lax went on, “is that you want to be a saint.” That struck Merton as impossible. “How do you expect me to become a saint?” “By wanting to,” said Lax. “I can’t be a saint,” Merton replied with conviction. To be a saint, he imagined, would require a magnitude of renunciation that was light years beyond him. But Lax pressed on. “All that is necessary to be a saint is to want to be one. Don’t you believe God will make you what He created you to be, if you will consent to let Him do it? All you have to do is desire it.”

It is not stretching the truth to say that both Lax and Merton spent the rest of their lives attempting to become the persons God created them to be — not aiming for capital S sainthood, complete with holy cards and a niche on the church calendar, but run-of-the-mill saints who have a talent for disappearing.

I met Lax at the Catholic Worker in Manhattan in 1961 and found him to be as lean as an exclamation mark, as tentative as a question mark and quiet as a comma. He occasionally came down for Friday night meetings and one evening read aloud some of the amazing poetry that eventually became part of his most treasured book, Circus of the Sun (now the first section of Circus Days and Nights). His circus poetry has ever since been a special love of mine, joyfully re-read more or less annually.

The Catholic Worker was a natural place for Lax to be. He had an affinity for the marginal and for those drawn to them. Earlier in his life he had been part of the community at Friendship House in Harlem. One winter Lax and Tom Cornell shared a $28-a-month apartment on Avenue A that seemed even colder inside than it was outside.

Another aspect of Lax’s affinity for the Catholic Worker was that he was a pacifist and had been one since his student days. Lax was one of those people who would far prefer to die than to end anyone’s life. When draft registration began shortly before the US entered World War II, both Lax and Merton declared themselves conscientious objectors. “Why,” Lax joked, “should I kill strangers when I have been so shy and polite about not killing unpleasant acquaintances?”

In that period of his life when our paths first crossed, Lax was editor-at-large of Jubilee magazine, an eye-opening, photo-intensive Catholic monthly that took an interest in people, places and topics widely ignored by the Catholic press as a whole: eastern Christianity, the works of mercy, lay communities, Christian art and artists, Church life in Europe, Asia and Latin America… No issue of Jubilee was ugly or boring, each issue a voyage of discovery.

One of the joys of life at that time was occasionally walking up to the Jubilee office and having a visit with Lax in his small white-washed cubicle that had, now that I think of it, something of a Greek look about it.

It was no surprise when not long afterward Lax made Greece his home, first Kalymnos beginning in 1964, an isle then famous for its sponge divers, and a decade later the monastic island of Patmos, where he remained until shortly before his death in 2000. By then Lax was something of a hermit, if one understands that many hermits are, as Merton was, intensely social people whose doors open both to friends and strangers nearly every day. But, apart from the cats who found Lax to be a good provider, Lax preferred to live alone.

Lax was born in Olean, New York in 1915 into a Jewish immigrant family. His remarkable mother, Betty, was both a founder of the local synagogue and a member of the Methodist and Presbyterian choirs, a combination that anticipated the wide spiritual reach of her son. During the Depression, Lax enrolled at Columbia where he formed life-shaping friendships with Merton and Ed Rice (later to found Jubilee), the poet Mark Van Doren (one of his professors) and radical abstract artist Ad Reinhardt. Lax also met his first holy man, a Hindu monk named Brahmachari who seemed far less interested in converting Christians to Hinduism than in converting Christians to Christianity. (It was thanks to Brahmachari’s influence that Merton read Augustine’s Confessions and Thomas a Kempis’s The Imitation of Christ.)

Lax was eventually to give up much that his talents, education and background equipped him to do, but in the years following graduation from Columbia he was on the staff of The New Yorker (where some of his early poetry was published), wrote film reviews for Time, and endured a period of script-writing in Hollywood. What he mainly learned in those years was how unhappy he could be attempting to be someone he was not.

The circus had been where he got the clearest glimpse of who he really was. While at The New Yorker he had met the Cristianis, a renowned family of acrobats. The poems knit together in Circus of the Sun were mainly works that had grown out of traveling with their small circus when it was on tour in western Canada. Joining in, Lax proved to be a natural clown.

While not drawn to a fulltime circus life, he was attracted to walking the high wire of voluntary poverty while gradually learning to write a lean poetry which in many cases was a trickle of slim words or thinner syllables cascading down the page. It was a poetry of contemplation in which the word “you” may mean yourself or God or the secret places where the one disappears into the other.

Michael McGregor — who knew Lax well — has written a book I’ve waited a long time to read. It’s a story with many surprises and much beauty. McGregor has the biographer’s gift of not only keeping careful track of Lax’s long pilgrimage, both physically and spiritually, but of bringing the reader into a space in which Lax is permanently alive and well. It’s a luminous story told with love and skill.

* * *








— Bob Lax
Circus Days and Nights
Overlook Press, p 110

Lawrence Cunningham Reviews PURE ACT in Commonweal Magazine

‘Pure Act’

 Review by Lawrence Cunningham, John O’Brien professor of Theology (Emeritus) at the University of Notre Dame

Robert Lax (1915-2000) is today best known in this country as Thomas Merton’s closest friend. Having met when they were both students at Columbia University, the two exchanged letters until Merton’s death in 1968. It is the purpose of Michael N. McGregor’s new biography of Lax to move him out from under the shadow of Merton’s powerful personality and give him his own place in the sun. This is not an easy thing for an American biography to do, both because Lax spent so much of his adult life outside the United Sates and because of his commitment as a poet to seeking the purest and sparest language possible, a commitment that makes his hermetic poems a challenge for many readers. While Lax enjoyed a certain measure of fame in Europe during his lifetime, it was only late in his life that his writings found a place in the American literary scene.

After Lax graduated from Columbia in 1938, he got off to a promising start. He landed jobs at the New Yorker and Time, and even spent some time as a scriptwriter in Hollywood. But a lifelong restlessness led him away from the well-beaten path of literary success. He traveled with a circus, lived for a short while in Paris and then in a poor neighborhood of Marseilles. He spent some time at a religious retreat near the shrine of La Sallette in France, and eventually settled—if that’s the right word—on the Greek island of Patmos. Finally, old age and illness brought him back to his upstate hometown of Olean, New York, where he died in 2000.

Born into a largely nonobservant Jewish family, Lax was baptized a Catholic in 1943. Ed Rice, who was Merton’s godfather, was also Lax’s. In the early 1950s, Rice founded Jubilee magazine, for which Lax served as a “roving editor” from Europe. That job was one of a number of threads that kept him somewhat tied to the American scene. He also kept up a correspondence with Mark Van Doren, the legendary Columbia professor, and thanks to his friendship with the graphic designer Emil Antonucci (who did a lot of work for Commonweal over the years), Lax’s great long poem The Circus of the Sun was published in this country. During all his years abroad, he wrote constantly. His poetry became gradually more pared-down, more minimalist. While he found sympathetic publishers in Europe, he remained little known and little published in this country, garnishing a certain reputation among better-known poets such as John Berryman (another classmate at Columbia) and John Ashbury.

McGregor got to know Lax by accident on a trip to Greece when someone on Patmos told him of the greatly admired American who lived on the island. McGregor sought him out and over the years they became friends. In fact, a fair amount of this biography frames itself around McGregor’s many visits to Patmos and the time he spent with Lax doing the things Lax loved most: walking around the island, swimming, and spending time in his modest home drinking tea, discussing books, sharing poems, and at times, sitting quietly. Toward the end of his life, Lax depended on McGregor to assist him with his papers and to help him return to upstate New York before the end of his life. Lax’s way of life, which McGregor observed in Patmos, had been established decades before: “living simply among those at the bottom of society, watching and writing down his observations, offering peace and whatever else he could to those in spiritual or physical need.” There was something almost monastic about it; it was in some ways similar to the life that Merton lived. Not surprisingly, Lax was, like Merton, a lifelong pacifist.

The title of this book derives from some lines Lax once wrote, obviously under the influence of the Thomism he learned during his Columbia days. God is pure act with no potency within Him, while everything else in the universe is in potential: on its way to pure act and thus on its way to unity with God. To really see something is to grasp that it is oriented toward pure act—which is to say, toward God. Perceptive critics were able to grasp this fundamental philosophical orientation in Lax’s austerely minimalist poetry. Mark Van Doren said that Lax expressed the “purity of the object and reverence in the beholder.”

Both Lax’s way of living and his poetics raise the question of his religious orientation. Lax never rejected his Jewishness after his entrance into the Catholic Church. He continued reading deeply in Jewish sources and was a close reader of Martin Buber. McGregor cites a long journal entry from late in Lax’s life where he writes that it is important to find the “right” religion and the right culture, but even more important “is the progress you make—the progress you find you can make—once you have found it.” The end, however, is to get beyond being a “good” Jew or Catholic in order to become a “contemplative, yes to be a mystic, yes.” In that context, Lax loved the line of Teilhard de Chardin: “Everything that rises must converge.”

McGregor wants to see Lax in his own right, and, true to that aim, he has written an intellectual biography that is as full and fair as one could expect. As a longtime reader of Lax, I learned a great deal from this finely researched book. It is not perfect: it is stronger on Lax the poet and essayist than on Lax the spiritual writer. On the latter topic one should consult Steve Georgiou’s The Way of the Dreamcatcher (2002). But Lax the poet deserves the attention he gets here, and the poetry, now mostly overlooked, is a good way into Lax’s mysticism.

Following a Golden String to Heaven’s Gate–A Review

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.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Pure Act

Robert Lax’s vocation was first and foremost as a poet though he spent his life as many other things in people’s perceptions. He was, for example, a friend of Thomas Merton (whose cottage industry was given further impetus by Pope Francis who recently singled him out for praise to the U.S. Congress). He was a reclusive saintly hermit on Patmos though like many saintly reclusive hermits before him, he was anything but, in truth, travelling and traipsing and hosting visitors aplenty. He was a ‘failed’ editor – an uncertain youthful fumbling after a literary career at the New Yorker and a deeper abiding presence, if sometime impractical, at Ed Rice’s Catholic journal, ‘Jubilee’.

But as Michael N. McGregor shows, in his exemplary biography, ‘Pure Act: The Uncommon Life of Robert Lax’,  Lax truly came alive when he realized that he could write nothing that was not simply for himself and that self was only authentically alive and present when it sought to rest in God and in those people and things, that seen aright, most directly, simply witnessed to God’s abiding presence in the world. As the Desert Fathers and Mothers knew, you become more truly transparent when you become ever more truly yourself – the Robert Lax you were created to be and only him (or her).

The people who witnessed to this for Lax were those whose lives were rich in skill, a skill that was honoured and ran so deep that it took on the character of a spontaneous gracefulness. He found this first in the circuses to which his father took him as a child and with which later, he travelled, living with the performers, occasionally performing himself, observing and interacting with them, apart yes yet at home. He, also, found it in the poor – not the broken or destitute – but people whose circumstances stripped them to bare essentials – the sponge divers or fishermen of the Greek isles (that became his home) or in his especial friend a woman carpet weaver on one such isle.

In a sense such seeing was an idealization – people are people, completely human and Lax was to suffer their capacity for falling out, vindictiveness, suspicion. On one of his Greek islands, his departure, just before the Turkish invasion of Cyprus with its threat of war, convinced many of the islanders that he was an American spy! But who is to say that such a ‘projection’ is not an invitation to people to respond with the best they are? An idealization that is a seeing through, an invitation for renewal. After all it was Lax who famously told Merton that you could become a saint by wanting to; and, perhaps you could become a saint by being seen as one too?

And respond they did.

Leading the life of a poet, only lately acknowledged as a genius, is a poor way to earn one’s crust, even if you were a man whose desires extended happily to crusts; and, having dived into this precarious life, he was supported through it. Money usually appeared when it was necessary, meals were cooked, clothes mended or given, indeed part of the testimony to a life aligned may indeed be the generosity it evoked. It was also a life marked with compelling gifts of friendship.

The world answered too in a different way. This second way was his focus on ‘things’ in which Lax gave testimony to God’s worldliness. This was beautifully reflected in his ‘vertical poetry’. Words on a page, one under the other, often rhythmically repeated, that were once described as either baffling or beatifying the reader, possible both, with minds bewildered into truth as they read on and the focused simplicity sinks, sings, dances into them.

As one page of his long sequence ‘Sea and Sky’ has it:





the sea-

the sea-

the sea

They are poems to be read aloud, musically and performatively, reminding us that the meaning of poetry (as in mysticism) is in the singing tone as in the text itself, in the spatial juxtaposition of words as in the building of sentences, in the silences as well as in the sounds.

It is a deeply moving book concerning how one man followed his own golden string to heaven’s gate, one tug at a time, and how such a path does not lead to certainty but to the open vulnerability that is love, his love, a gift wrapped in God’s.