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Pure Act: The Uncommon Life of Robert Lax
     

Pure Act: The Uncommon Life of Robert Lax

by Michael N. McGregor
 

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An illuminating biography of the minimalist poet Robert Lax, a man who embraced simplicity, humility, and poverty and found the pure joy, peace and love he had long sought.

Pure Act tells the story of poet Robert Lax, whose quest to live a true life as both an artist and a spiritual seeker inspired Thomas Merton, Jack Kerouac, William Maxwell and a host of other

Overview

An illuminating biography of the minimalist poet Robert Lax, a man who embraced simplicity, humility, and poverty and found the pure joy, peace and love he had long sought.

Pure Act tells the story of poet Robert Lax, whose quest to live a true life as both an artist and a spiritual seeker inspired Thomas Merton, Jack Kerouac, William Maxwell and a host of other writers, artists and ordinary people. Known in the U.S. primarily as Merton's best friend and in Europe as a daringly original avant-garde poet, Lax left behind a promising New York writing career to travel with a circus, live among immigrants in post-war Marseilles and settle on a series of remote Greek islands where he learned and recorded the simple wisdom of the local people. Born a Jew, he became a Catholic and found the authentic community he sought in Greek Orthodox fishermen and sponge divers.

In his early life, as he alternated working at the New Yorker, writing screenplays in Hollywood and editing a Paris literary journal with studying philosophy, serving the poor in Harlem and living in a sanctuary high in the French Alps, Lax pursued an approach to life he called pure act—a way of living in the moment that was both spontaneous and practiced, God-inspired and self-chosen. By devoting himself to simplicity, poverty and prayer, he expanded his capacity for peace, joy and love while producing distinctive poetry of such stark beauty critics called him "one of America's greatest experimental poets" and "one of the new 'saints' of the avant-garde."

Written by a writer who met Lax in Greece when he was a young seeker himself and visited him regularly over fifteen years, Pure Act is an intimate look at an extraordinary but little-known life. Much more than just a biography, it's a tale of adventure, an exploration of friendship, an anthology of wisdom, and a testament to the liberating power of living an uncommon life.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
08/31/2015
Drawing on his friendship with poet Robert Lax (1915–2000) and his close readings of Lax's writings, McGregor eloquently offers the definitive biography of a too often forgotten figure who influenced a number of writers and crafted spirituality out of his deep commitment to love, poverty, and justice. McGregor deftly and briefly chronicles Lax's childhood in Olean, N.Y. His family eventually moved to New York City, but not before the circus came to Olean and mesmerized the young Lax—with its performers who are "portals to the land of dusk"—so deeply that he traveled with a circus through western Canada in 1949 and wrote a cycle of poems that grew out of his experience and love. By the fall of 1943, Lax had converted from Judaism to Catholicism, inspired by his readings of Thomas Aquinas's writings and by his ongoing discussions with Thomas Merton, whom Lax had met at Columbia University. Following his conversion, Lax embraced a life of poverty, combining his lack of desire for things with a passion for nurturing a love for those on the fringes of society. This detailed biography from a friend of subject is best for those already interested in Lax's mission. The book effectively brings to life Lax's "pure act"—naturally living out his God-given abilities without becoming mired in judging others. (Sept.)
From the Publisher
"Michael McGregor's Pure Act is an outstanding contribution to Lax studies and greatly enriches our understanding of the poet-sage, giving readers much unpublished and little-known material."—S.T. Georgiou, author of In the Beginning Was Love: Contemplative Poems of Robert Lax

"A thoroughly researched and compassionate look at the remarkable life of Robert Lax. Those who know him only as a close friend of Thomas Merton will be delighted with the person they find in these pages: an influential poet, a voice for peace, a wanderer and seeker after truth. Many sought Lax out at his Patmos home; McGregor has made his wisdom available to all."—Kathleen Norris

"With grace and insight, McGregor bears witness to the evolution of a great artist who is seamlessly connected to his art."—Jim Forest, author of Loving Our Enemies: Reflections on the Hardest Commandment

"Tender, thorough, meticulous, an act of fine and generous and wonderfully sharp-eyed sharp-eared witness. The riveting mystic Robert Lax would have been delighted at the care and reverence with which Michael McGregor celebrates and resurrects and delves an extraordinary American's many-layered life."—Brian Doyle, author of Mink River

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780823268016
Publisher:
Fordham University Press
Publication date:
09/21/2015
Series:
Catholic Practice in North America (FUP) Series
Pages:
472
Sales rank:
350,631
Product dimensions:
5.90(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.50(d)

Meet the Author

Michael N. McGregor, a Professor of English and Creative Writing at Portland State University, has lectured at universities, conferences, and community events on both Robert Lax and Thomas Merton and is a member of Biographers International Organization and the International Thomas Merton Society.

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