Stride Magazine -


Regular Stride readers will know we’ve published several books by or about Robert Lax. Lax isn’t well known over here, and people either seem to come to him as a concrete or minimalist poet or a Thomas Merton sidekick. Both true of course, and both perfectly good ways to ‘discover’ Lax’s writings. Two new publications make me suspicious however, and make me wonder if we aren’t going to see the same kind of pseudo-canonisation of Lax that has happened to Thomas Merton, where everything he ever wrote gets to be published, people make ‘pilgrimages’ to see where he lived, and he gets held up as an example of all the sorts of things he never wanted nor intended to be.

 One of the interesting things about Robert Lax is that he seems to become whatever the person who comes to his work wants, or whatever the letter writer or speaker to him when he was alive wanted. I corresponded infrequently with him, wary of bothering him hidden away on Patmos, but his brief, friendly letters said just enough to know he enjoyed the poems and drawings we exchanged, that he appreciated the fact an English small press was presenting his work to the public, and was grateful to David Miller and Nicholas Zurbrugg for putting together The ABCs of Robert Lax which we published a few years back.

 Steve Theodore Georgiou approached Lax very differently to me. In The Way of the Dreamcatcher. Spirit Lessons with Robert Lax: Poet, Peacemaker, Sage he gathers up and edits together conversations from several years of visiting Lax on Patmos, weaving them together into sections [‘Origins’, ‘Craft’, ‘Art’] and subsections [‘Building Bridges’, ‘Art as Art’, ‘Live and Help Live’] which rather ominously move toward the ‘Spirit’ and ‘Epilogue’ sections. As you read the book it becomes clear Lax is led by the person he is conversing with. If Georgiou wants to discuss faith and doubt then it is discussed, if art then that is the subject for the day… Lax never seems to contradict or argue, simply responds to what is offered to him. The ‘Spirit’ section I found incredibly – I can’t think of any other word – ‘evangelical’; I was surprised to find Lax so zealous and outspoken about his christian faith; disturbed to find him so religiously conservative. I found this hard to square with the quiet, gentle man of few words that I knew [mainly through his books] and have concluded that he is someone who became what his friends wanted him to be, or rather appeared to be what people wanted him to be? ‘My’ Lax, a quiet, peaceful letter writer, cat-lover and author of exquisite experimental poems is not the religious sage Georgiou knew. I guess that’s okay? It kind of has to be…

 As you have surmised, I can’t honestly say I enjoyed this book. I think it concentrates too much on personality, and that the author is too ready to turn Lax into a guru and [metaphorically] sit at his feet. I’m suspicious of the way that these talks appear to have been woven together rather than present actual real time discussion. I’m someone who is suspicious of people who hang on anyone’s every word, as appears to happen here. And, to be honest, I don’t feel the interviews are particularly deep, or that what is said can’t be surmsied from Lax’s published work, or other previously-published criticism and discussion.

 Also arrived here recently, though published back in Spring 2001, is the Robert Lax issue of The Merton Seasonal. Here Georgiou provides an interesting, if narrow, overview of some of the published books about and by Lax [he doesn’t seem quite up to speed on what is actually available from which publisher], and there is a moving article about Lax’s final days before he died. Elsewhere, as is normal for the magazine, there are reviews, short articles, poems [including one by Lax himself] and some ‘Tributes and Reminiscences’, mostly rather trite as is the way of these things, but perhaps important to those treasuring their memories of the man.

 Neither the magazine nor the Dreamcatcher volume come close to catching the elusive nature of Robert Lax, or telling us much about the man. I think he deserves proper critical appreciation and discussion, and perhaps a critical biography by someone who actually knew him well for a sustained period of time. In the meantime we will have to make do with these rather impoverished offerings.

           © Rupert Loydell 2002



The Way of the Dreamcatcher is published by Novalis, and costs $14.95 US.
The book is available in
Europe from the Columbia Bookservice  
353 1 2942556

 The Merton Seasonal [the Robert Lax issue is Vol. 26, No. 1, Spring 2001; issn 0988-4927]is published by the Thomas Merton center, Bellarmine University, 2001 Newburg Road, Louisville, KY 40205, USA