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Robert Lax

Lax’s Port City: The Marseille Diaries,

The section of Love Had a Compass entitled Port City: The Marseille Diaries, though it celebrates “the joy/ of being /alone/ and in/ a foreign land” ends up celebrating everyday life, almost as if Lax had to be transported to a foreign land to appreciate the everyday events of life.

Though Lax’s vision often reminds me of Whitman’s celebration of the self, of everyday man, the style of the poems is almost diametrically the opposite of Whitman’s, more reminiscent of e.e. cummings, or, perhaps, even Japanese haiku poets.

However, it’s described, the effect of this pared-down style is to force the reader to look at, and consider, each word, an effect that is, in turn, re-enforced by the deliberate repetition of words.

It’s difficult to appreciate the effect without reading the entire diary, but:

the morning show

the afternoons

the evening

one town
at many
different
times
of day

at different
times of year

the same
strange town

(the same
short street
which stretched
from end to
end of that
short quay)

a single
string:

a single
taught-stretched
string

(there
where all the
music was
held tight
in that
one-fretted
instrument)

a single street
a single street

was stretched tight
by the waters

to walk
upon
those
stretched-tight
strings was
music

the street

the street
in rain

the early
morning
street

like a

budding
flower

the early
morning
street

like a
budding
rose

is one of my favorites and suggests, when fully seen, the common, everyday street, in rain or shine, contains the potential for beauty if we can but bring ourselves to see it that way.

Perhaps we don’t see it that way precisely because we don’t give ourselves time to see the beauty. We are so preoccupied with our daily concerns, or so dulled by repeated exposure, that we are unable to see it for what it is.

Take the spaces out of the poem, and see what happens to it:

the morning show the afternoons the evening one town at many different times of day at different times of year the same strange town (the same short street which stretched from end to end of that short quay) a single string: a single taught-stretched string (there where all the music was held tight in that one-fretted instrument) a single street a single street was stretched tight by the waters to walk upon those stretched-tight strings was music the street in sun the street in rain the early morning street like a budding flower the early morning street like a budding rose

Without the spaces, without the pauses, the poem is reduced to gibberish, the same kind of gibberish our lives can be reduced to if we fall victim to the constant barrage of images and news that assaults us every day, an assault that too soon exhausts us, leaving us gasping for air, for space to breathe.

Amazingly, in a world filled with so much ugliness, so many disheartening pictures of human depravity, we can still find beauty in our everyday lives if we but pause ”

” and look.

It seems to me that perhaps it is only by pausing that we can reassure ourselves that life can be something better and can regain the strength to actually confront the evil that is within.