Robert Lax’s Poetry

My recent literary spiritual journey beginning with New England’s Emily Dickinson and ending with Japan’s Buson, led me to some relatively unknown places, but none less familiar than Robert Lax’s book of poetry entitled Love Had a Compass: Journals and Poetry.

I first encountered Lax’s name while searching online for information about Thomas Merton. Two articles in particular “A Visit With Robert Lax ’38” and “LAX, ROBERT — Mystic Poet 1915-2000,” inspired me to order a copy of Lax’s book through Amazon. The book was backordered, though, and it took me nearly a month to get it. When told it had been backordered, I was tempted to cancel the order, but now that I’ve finally begun reading it, I’m very happy that I didn’t cancel my order.

I suspect my recent haiku readings have made it possible to appreciate Lax in ways I probably wouldn’t have been able to when I began reading poetry many years ago, because his poetry is marked by an unusual simplicity and directness.

As edited by James Uebbing, Love Had a Compass consists of a number of short sections that seem to mirror the shortness of the poems themselves. So far I’ve read the “Introduction,” “Occasional Poems,” “Three Concrete Poems,” “Twenty Five Episodes,” and “Fables.”

Some of my favorite poems come from “Twenty Five Episodes.” The very first one sets the tone for this section:

he sat
on the edge of his bed
all night

day came
& he continued to sit there

he thought he would never be able
to understand
what had happened

I certainly have never have understood what happened. You?

Perhaps somehow it’s related to

the angel came to him & said

I’m sorry, mac, but
we talked it over
in heaven
& you’re going

to have to live
a thousand years

A thousand years. How many times would you have to watch politicians send their country’s youth off to war just as they sent you off when little more than a child yourself?

How long could you stand to watch the men in the shadows getting rich cashing in on other’s misery and poverty, all the while demanding tax breaks for doing so?