I spent several hours recently looking through my collection of Robert Lax books, booklets, pamphlets, recordings, letters, and drawings and thought I’d post images of a few of them. The ones I value most, of course, are those Lax gave me himself, inscribing them to me. But others have special meaning as well. Among them are:
The multi-language version of The Circus of the Sun I was amazed to find in a Seattle bookstore just months after I first met Lax (the first of his books I owned); the pristine copy of the original hardcover version or The Circus of the Sun its publisher, Emil Antonucci, sent me after I interviewed him; the copy of A Poem for Thomas Merton Lax’s cousin Soni gave me one of the last times I saw her (image below); and the four copies of the extremely fragile and rare Pax broadsheet Lax sent out to friends and a few paying customers in the 50s and 60s (which I was able to purchase online before prices for that kind of thing rose out of sight).
What struck me most as I looked over all of these treasures was the sheer number and variety of people Lax collaborated with or simply allowed to use his poems in whatever way they chose. The two most consistent and therefore important publishers of his work were Emil Antonucci, who started Journeyman Press just to disseminate Lax’s poems, and Gladys Weigner und Bernhard Moosbrugger, who did something similar with Pendo-Verlag. But there were countless others: poets, painters, photographers, lithographers, musicians, radio personalities, magazine editors, and multimedia artists. All of them were touched by something in Lax’s writings but also by something in him: a spirit, a way of seeing, an ability to bring the world and ourselves into clearer focus. And all of them found Lax to be a willing and enjoyable partner.
While musicians are generally used to collaborating, most artists and writers create alone. And many of them—of us—are difficult to work with when a collaborative opportunity comes along. Even playwrights, who work in a collaborative medium, often have a tough time letting go of their work so directors and actors and stage designers can turn it into something alive on stage.
But although Lax lived alone and wrote his poetry alone, he was a natural and cheerful collaborator. His first collaborations were with his college friends—in creating issues of Jester at Columbia College and when they lived together during college summers at the Marcus cottage. Out of these times—and his later observations of jazz musicians jamming together and circus acrobats perfecting their timing with one another—came his view of the ideal life: not only living fully in the moment, under God, but also performing whatever art or practice you have worked to perfect—spontaneously, in a spirit of love, in community with others.
May we all learn from Lax to be better collaborators and enjoy the synergy that can be released only when we trust and say yes to one another.