Robert Lax’s A Thing That Is

I just finished reading Robert Lax's A Thing That Is for the second time, partially because I liked it that much, but also because it's easy to read because it's only seventy-seven pages long, and most of those pages are made up of white space.

In reading this selection, I also have refined my feelings towards his unique style, one that places extraordinary empahsis on individual words. In short, I really appeciate its potential when it's used in a poem like:

be
gin
by
be
ing

pa
tient

with
your
self

la
ter
you
can
be
pa
tient

with
oth
ers

(name
of
the
game

is
pa
tience.)

His style seems like a cross between Japanese haiku and e.e.cummings' poetry, forcing each word to take on a special meaning that it often loses in everyday language.

In a poem like this, the emphasis on patience is reinforced by the very patience it takes to read the poem. The same thing can be said when Lax attempts to write meditative poems, and each word seems like a separate thought strung on a rosary.

Unfortunately, the style seems to me to get in the way in longer poems like "solemn dance," which goes on for eight pages like this:

the
dance
of
the
waves

is
an
order
"d
dance

the
dance
of
the
waves

is
a
solemn
dance
...

Unfortunately, by the time I'd finished the poem I felt like I'd been lost at sea, and it wasn't a comfortable feeling, certainly not one I'd pay $20 for again.

4 thoughts on “Robert Lax’s A Thing That Is

  1. That first poem has a missiong opening tag and thus your br> shows on screen.

    I see your brain’s not dead yet; you just have galluping butterfingers! I get them 3 or 4 times a day.

  2. I love Robert Lax.

    Partly because of his hermeticism, his spareness. I can’t think of him without thinking of his college mates, Ad Reinhardt and Thomas Merton.

    I suppose too much of a good thing could be bad though. Maybe some of these are poems that are more powerful in the writing than in the reading.

  3. elck, I’ll admit that I was enthralled by the first book of his poems that I read, and I love a lot of the poems in this volume, too.

    Still, it strikes me that his form works in some ways like the haiku form. It seems to work more by isolating words than it does by surrounding them with other words.

    Some of the poems in this volume had four lines of narrow poems running down the page, and, for me, they didn’t work as well.

What do you think?