Thursday, February 11, 2016, 7:00 P.M., City Lights Booksellers, 261 Columbus Avenue, San Francisco
photo of Robert Lax by Wilfried Petzi
an evening of discussion and readings with
Michael McGregor, John Beer, and S.T. Georgiou
celebrating the release of
Fordham University Press
A companion piece to Thomas Merton's bestselling autobiography The Seven Storey Mountain, Pure Act: The Uncommon Life of Robert Lax tells the story of Merton's best friend and early spiritual inspiration. Written by a close friend of Lax, Pure Act gives an intimate view of a friendship and a life that affected Merton in profound ways. It was Lax, a daringly original poet himself, who encouraged Merton to begin writing poetry and Lax who told him he should desire to be a saint rather than just a Catholic. To the end of Merton's life, Lax was his spiritual touchstone and closest friend.
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 Michael McGregor, 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.
What has been said about Pure Act:
"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 Words 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, best-selling author of The Cloister Walk and Dakota: A Spiritual Geography
"This grace-filled biography is a book I have for years been hoping someone might write, and now, thanks to Michael McGregor, this has become an answered prayer. 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 and Living With Wisdom: a Biography of Thomas Merton
"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
"Pure Act, in its offering of a detailed recounting of [Lax's] life and an acute presentation and analysis of his too-neglected poetry, gives him to us: the gift of a human being unlike any other."--C.K. Williams
"In clear but evocative prose, McGregor brings a triangular tale vividly to life: one side tells the story of Robert Lax's searching into religion and poetry, a second side reveals his life-long friendship with Trappist monk and acclaimed author Thomas Merton, and the third is a memoir of McGregor's own development as a writer through his visits with Lax on Patmos. Lax's story alone is as strange and gripping as any by Kafka. Read, and you will never forget Robert Lax."--Ian MacNiven, author of "Literchoor Is My Beat": A Life of James Laughlin, Publisher of New Directions
"Drawing on his friendship with poet Robert Lax (19152000) 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."--Publishers Weekly
"Pure Act is much more than a biography. It's a real and full and personal meditation on life, and on what a life is for."--Karen Fisher, author of A Sudden Country
About 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.
About the speakers:
John Beer is the former literary assistant to poet Robert Lax, and the editor of Lax's Poems (1962-1997) (2013). Beer is the author of the poetry collection The Waste Land and Other Poems (2010), winner of the Norma Farber First Book Award from the Poetry Society of America, and the chapbook Lucinda (2013). A former theater critic for Time Out Chicago, Beer's criticism has appeared in Verse, the Denver Quarterly, Chicago Review, and other magazines. He currently teaches at Portland State University.
S.T. Georgiou is an educator and writer. He lectures at San Francisco City College, San Francisco State University, and at the Center For Arts, Religion, and Education (C.A.R.E.) at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, California. Steve's areas of teaching and study include the Interdisciplinary Humanities, Comparative Religion, Iconography, Thomas Merton and Robert Lax Studies, Desert Monasticism, and Spirituality and Healing. He is the author of a spiritual trilogy inspired by Robert Lax: The Way of the Dreamcatcher: Spirit Lessons With Robert Lax, Poet-Peacemaker-Sage (Novalis 2003, Templegate 2010); Mystic Street: Meditations On A Spiritual Path (Novalis 2007) and The Isle of Monte Cristo: Finding the Inner Treasure (Novalis 2010, winner of a 2011 Catholic Press Association Award). His most recent book is In the Beginning Was Love: Contemplative Words of Robert Lax, (Templegate 2015).