Writings About, By or Inspired by Robert Lax
A Lax Poem and a Children’s Book About Thomas Merton
In April 2016 I wrote about the luminous paintings based on Lax’s poetry done by a talented young painter named Abbey Ryan. Lately, I’ve been corresponding with Abbey’s father Greg Ryan, who knew Robert Lax for many years. Greg sent me this image of the kind of thing Lax often included with his letters:
Greg and his wife Elizabeth Ryan are the author and illustrator of a lovely new children’s book about Thomas Merton called The ABCs of Thomas Merton: A Monk at the Heart of the World. It is a well-pitched and pleasingly illustrated introduction to Merton and his world for children age 6-10. You can find it on Amazon. Here’s the cover:
By the way, the featured image for this entry is a note Lax sent to Greg and Elizabeth when they were expecting Abbey, the “bright newcomer from the sky.”
7 p.m. this Friday, June 16: Thomas Merton Society Keynote Address on the Merton-Lax Friendship to be Live-Streamed
I just learned that my keynote address at the International Thomas Merton Society conference at 7 p.m. (Eastern time) this Friday, June 16, will be live-streamed. The talk is titled “Harpo and the Clown of God: The Seven-Storied Friendship of Thomas Merton and Robert Lax.”
The other keynotes–by Scott Russell Sanders, M. Shawn Copeland, and Luke Timothy Johnson–will be live-streamed too.
To tune in, go to http://merton.org/2017/default.aspx#stream when it’s time for the talk and look for the blue box (where you’ll find the schedule too):
June 15-18: 2017 International Thomas Merton Society Conference Will Feature Presentations on Robert Lax
The 2017 International Thomas Merton Society Conference is coming up next week, June 15-18. Because it is being held at St. Bonaventure University in Olean, NY, Robert Lax’s hometown, it will feature a number of presentations on Lax, including my keynote address, “Harpo and the Clown of God: The Seven-Storied Friendship of Thomas Merton and Robert Lax.”
The other keynote speakers will be: M. Shawn Copeland, Luke Timothy Johnson, and Scott Russell Sanders.
The other Lax features will be:
- a general session titled “Robert Lax: In His Own Words.”
- a showing of the Nicolas Humbert/Werner Penzel film “Why Should I Buy a Bed When All That I Want Is Sleep?” featuring a look at Lax in his Patmos home and reading his poetry.
- Lax’s Psalm with spoken word, dance and piano by Christine Bachich and Jacqueline Chew
Click here for registration information and here for a full list of conference presentations.
Finding Lax in a Simone Weil Quote
I found the quote below in The Saint and the Scholar, Jon M. Sweeney’s short, fascinating new book about how the split between faith and reason got started back in the 12th century. The book is the story of the different approaches to faith and learning followed by Bernard of Clairvaux and Peter Abelard (of Heloise affair fame) and how their conflict has echoed down through the ages.
The quote, from Simone Weil, is a good description of how Robert Lax lived:
“There is no entry into the transcendent until the human faculties–intelligence, will, human love–have come up against a limit, and the human being waits at this threshold, which he can make no move to cross, without turning away and without knowing what he wants, in fixed, unwavering attention.”
A PURE ACT Reading in Boston
If you live in or near Boston, I hope you’ll come out to 279 Harvard St. in Brookline this coming Thursday, May 18, for a 7 p.m. reading at Brookline Booksmith bookstore. The new paperback version of Pure Act: The Uncommon Life of Robert Lax will be for sale at the reading.
Patmos Poet–a poem by Chris McDonnell
The following poem came in the mail the other day. According to its author, Chris McDonnell, a retired headteacher in the UK, a slightly different version of it was published in the Merton Journal in the UK shortly after Robert Lax’s death in 2000. It’s language and rhythms capture the feeling of the “anti-letters” Lax and Merton sent to each other over several decades. (Chauncey was one of the playful names they used to address each other.)
Decoding the Anti-Letters Between Lax and Merton
At the International Thomas Merton Society conference at Sacred Heart University in 2013, I gave a talk on the lifelong correspondence between Robert Lax and Thomas Merton titled “Decoding the Anti-Letters: A Whirling Dance of Wisdom and Wit.” Last spring, that talk was published in The Merton Journal in Great Britain. And now the Journal has made it available as a PDF online. You can read it here.
I’ll be talking about the friendship between Lax and Merton again as a keynote speaker at this year’s ITMS conference, to be held at St. Bonaventure University in Lax’s hometown of Olean, NY, June 15-18. My talk this time will be titled “Harpo and the Clown of God: the Seven-Storied Friendship of Thomas Merton and Robert Lax.” You’ll find full conference details here. I hope to see you in Olean in June!
A Lax Exhibit at St. Bonaventure University Features Harry Jackson’s Life-Size Portrait
A couple of months ago, I made a post about the life-size painting of Lax done by Harry Jackson back in 1962 (see the original post). I said in my post that I didn’t know where the painting is now. Well, at this moment, it is in an exhibit of Lax’s writings and photographs at the Quick Center for the Arts at St. Bonaventure University, thanks to the generosity of Lax’s niece Marcia Kelly and her husband Jack. You can read about the exhibit here. Normally, it hangs in the Harry Jackson Institute in Cody, Wyoming. Here’s the title card:
For those of you going to the International Thomas Merton Society conference at St. Bonaventure this June, be sure to stop by the Center for a look. The exhibit just opened this month, so I’m sure it will still be around then. Here are a couple more looks:
Looking for Online Examples of Robert Lax’s Poetry?
Garrison Keillor has featured Robert Lax’s poetry on his “The Writer’s Almanac” radio show several times and the poems are all still featured on the “Almanac” website. You can even listen to Garrison Keillor read them. The one to read or listen to now, perhaps, is “Greeting to Spring (Not Without Trepidation),” which first appeared in The New Yorker in the early years of World War II.
For those who like to watch something while listening, here’s a YouTube video of Keillor reading “The Alley Violinist.” Keillor included this one in his 2002 book Good Poems.
Coming in March: Visiting Professorship at St. Bonaventure University in Lax’s hometown
I’m pleased to announce that I’ve been selected to be the Spring 2017 Lenna Endowed Visiting Professor at St. Bonaventure University in Lax’s hometown, Olean, New York. I’ll be on campus for the last two weeks of March, giving talks, visiting classrooms, meeting with students, and chatting with the Franciscan friars.
For more details about the Lenna Professorship and my time at St. Bonaventure, see this post on my personal website.