This last May, I had lunch with Michael N. McGregor, a fellow Fordham University Press author, and talked with him about writing, navigating the publishing process, and organizing a book tour. McGregor was thoughtful, open, and gracious. After our conversation, I purchased McGregor’s book and humbly requested his inscription. Last week, I finally began Pure Act: The Uncommon Life of Robert Lax. I could not anticipate how deeply the book would affect me.
Pure Act is the first authoritative biography of Robert Lax, a minimalist poet, Catholic convert, and mystical figure. Lax was also a native of my hometown, Olean, New York. (I’ll explore this in a later post.)
After flirting with the magazine, radio, and film industries, Lax traveled between Europe and his base in Olean and finally settled into a quiet, esthetic life on several Greek isles. In Greece, Lax felt that he could escape the trappings of the world–advertising, automobiles, mass media, competition, and consumption–and devote his waking hours to art and the spirit. Tension between Greece and Turkey, peasant xenophobia, and Lax’s own guilelessness combined to shatter his idyllic vision of the fishermen and villagers of his adopted home.
During Lax’s later years and after decades of obscurity, Lax’s poetry, photographs, and assorted literary endeavors gained a following in Europe and the United States. Listening to his own voice, adhering to his own vision, and disinterested in financial rewards, Lax finally achieved a modest level of success and renown as a poet. Most artists would envy this accomplishment.
Lax’s life interested me far more than his poetry. Early in his adulthood, Lax swore off the temptations of the world and built a simple life fully infused with art and faith. This model–bohemian, spiritual, even apostolic–provides an example for individuals yearning to live beyond the demands, compromises, and judgments of contemporary culture and society. Robert Lax showed not just artists, writers, and thinkers but any searcher a different path through this world.
Pure Act is a deeply researched, well crafted, and vividly written book. The structure of the book is unusual: it is part-memoir, part-literary study, and part-biography. McGregor begins the book by describing his first meeting Lax. Throughout the book, McGregor reflects upon his friendship with Lax and its impact on his own literary aspirations and life. Pure Act is more than an intellectual or scholarly exploration for McGregor.
Even if you haven’t read Lax’s poetry, give Pure Act a chance. After reading it, maybe you’ll borrow a collection of Lax’s work from your local library. Or, just maybe, you’ll examine your own life and apply Lax’s simplicity to it.