Poetry as Prayer … a little inspiration from Robert Lax …

Everything that exists
can turn to prayer;
even the water,
even the air.

– Robert Lax
A Song For Our Lady

If you are viewing this post from an email subscription, you’ll likely have to link through to watch the two short videos included today.

“And in the beginning was love. Love made a sphere: all things grew within it; the sphere then encompassed beginnings and endings, beginning and end. Love had a compass whose whirling dance traced out a sphere of love in the void: in the center thereof rose a fountain.”

– Robert Lax
from his renown poem, Circus in the Sun (about the circus of creation), it was read at Lax’s funeral in New York


“I think it’s a metaphysical concept
starting with Aristotle and flowering in St. Thomas
that God is pure act and that there is no potentía in him
…. Almost everything else in the universe is potentía,
it’s on its way to being pure act”

An excellent – award wining – biography – of Lax

Robert Lax (1915 – 2000) was an American poet who converted from Judaism to Catholicism. He has been called “saint,” “mystic, “one of the great enigmas of American poetry, “a pilgrim” and “a prophet.” His poems where innocent, ecstatic and even whimsical. Over time they became more and more minimalist … one simple word or strings of sounds stretched into long narrow word-cascades that sometimes stopped here and there to puddle.

“Robert Lax’s poems [prove] yet again that the gift to be simple is the gift to be free, that less is more, and that least may sometimes be most.”—John Ashbery

In addition to his poetry, Robert Lax is know for his friendship with the writer, poet and Trapist monk, Thomas Merton, also a convert to Catholicism.

Lax went to school with John Berryman and was mentor to Jack Kerouac. He was friends with and appreciated by the Beats and one of my fave writers, James Agee (A Death in the Family and – with photographer Walker Evens – Let Us Now Praise Men). Denise Levertove and e.e. commings numbered among Lax’s friends as well. He was also friends with the artist Ad Reinhart.

In 1962 Lax began his travels in Greece, settling into life as a hermit on the island of Patmos, seen by many as a sacred space. Patmos is the alleged site of the vision of and writing of the Christian Bible’s Book of Revelation. Because of that connection, the island is a destination for Christian pilgrimage.

Although Robert Lax lived quietly in Patmos and did nothing to promote his poetry or himself, people – including the Beats and other poets – came to visit him. He always welcomed his visitors and purposeful or accidental students. He was mentor to more than a few.

If poetry as prayer is a topic of interest, you could do worse than to explore Lax’s life and work. A light read and good introduction to this poet is The Way of the Dreamcatcher: Spirit Lessons with Robert Lax.  It was written by San Francisco writer, S.T. Georgiou (Greek Orthodox), who went to Patmos in search of some spiritual answers. As good fortune would have it, he met Robert Lax, became friends with him and visited often with him on several trips back to Patmos.  Subsequently, after Lax’s death, Georgiou wrote The Way of the Dreamcatcher, a book about this adventure in friendship, mentoring, the sacred and poetry.

Robert Lax received the National Council of the Arts Award in 1969.

Books by Robert Lax include:


“because yes – he likes to ‘write’ – but to ‘do’ – to do a particular thing – perhaps on paper (perhaps on canvas – perhaps in stone – perhaps, perhaps in a musical score) – a thing that will stand, a thing that will bear (that will sustain) repeated contemplation: a thing that will sustain long contemplation, and that will (in a ‘deep’ enough way) reward the beholder.”  Robert Lax, Love Had a Compass: Journals and Poetry


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This week’s recommened read.

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Once Upon a Sea Green Day, a poem … and your Wednesday Writing Prompt

We flew along the freeway yesterday under
a cold coastal expanse of cerulean ceiling.

It reminded me of you and how we dusted
the vaults of our minds to rid them of fear
and the old lexicons of grief and guilt, the
whalebone girdles of unfounded faith and
common conventions, saccharine and sticky.
I thought of that one sea-green day we spent

under just such a sky in a land far away and
how we changed your name then, reframed
your story to tell of hope and not despair.
You sketched flowers blossoming in the dust
of a spring that promised but never delivered.
Now we don’t speak of men but of cats with

their custom of keeping heart and claws intact.
We tell ourselves stories in rhythms that resound
in deep sleep. Soon now the ancient calls to
feral festivals will still and the time’s arrived when
our only play is in the margins, fate hanging
from our skeletons like Spanish moss on old oak.

It pleases me that life’s passage spins into poemed reliquary and
a memory of the pink peau de soie I wore to your prom that June.

© 2017,  prompt, poem and photograph, Jamie Dedes, All rights reserved


WRITING PROMPT

This particular poem was inspired by the memory of a day when my high school boy friend and I went from Brooklyn to Staten Island and found a obsure Tibetan monestary in the hills there.  The monks were kind (and I suspect patient) and showed us their flower and vegetable gardens and an old well-loved version of the Book of the Dead.  This later was most intriguing to us: a Catholic and a Jew steeped in their respective traditions.

We were young and cock sure and probably our own deaths seemed more hypothetical than real; but we speculated on Buddhism from our positions of profound ignorance. In its way, it was a good exercise. It made us begin to seriously examine the received wisdom of our traditions. For me it was the beginning of an adventure that was to last a lifetime. I did leave behind the grief, guilt and superstition; but here were some aspects of the tradition of my childhood for which I gained a respect that probably never would have evolved without examination.

What about you?  What were the beliefs and enthusiasms of your youth? How have these (religious or not) been modified over time? Tell us in a poem or short creative nonfiction. If you are comfortable, leave the piece in the comments section below or a link to it so that I and others might enjoy it. Thank you!


The recommended read for this week for children, Pizza, Pigs and Poetry: How to Write a Poem by  Jack Prelutsky,  named the nation’s first Children’s Poet Laureate by the Poetry Foundation.

Pizza, Pigs and Poetry, How to Write a Poem is ideal for children grades 3-6.  He engages by sharing funny stories, light poems and creative technique, not forms. This seems entirely perfect for encouraging – not discouraging – this age group. Fun and funny Pizza, Pigs and Poetry would make great summer reading – and writing – and is perfect for a birthday gift or a gift for some other occasion.


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SHALOM, SALAAM, GREETINGS: HAPPY HANUKKAH AND A JOYOUS CHRIST’S MASS

hanuka-menorah-by-gil-dekel-2014

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If you are reading this in an email subscription, you’ll have to link through to the site to listen to this charming and cheery musical dialogue between Judaism and Christianity.

ENGLISH VERSION:

SPANISH VERSION:

A musical dialogue between Rabbi Marcelo Polakoff and Bishop Monseñor Pedro Torres, with musical production by Fernando “Rahe” Israilevich. A greeting of good omens for the whole world.

♥ ♥ ♥

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Happy Holy Days ….

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Wishing you every blessing throughout this holy day season. Let us be the peace and the peace will be with us.

Love,
Jamie

♥ ♥ ♥

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