all the stories you may have heard about a person who makes a pilgrimage
"Up The Mountain" to talk with a sage - apocryphal or
humorous or profane or profound - "The Way of the Dreamcatcher,"
Steve T Georgiou's new book detailing his visits with "Poet,
Peacemaker, Sage" Robert Lax in Patmos, Greece, is the real
are treated in the book to the prospect of accompanying Georgiou
on his somewhat unexpected pilgrimage to sit at the feet of Robert
Lax (1915-2000), and share in his delight at the humility, clarity
and spiritual insight of a man whom Jack Kerouac called "The
turns we share in moments of levity, exposition and real communication
between two men whose love of the Spiritual in living and in art
are made manifest and plain in page after page of dialogue that
has the sage and his disciple in pleasant banter over everything
from yoga to yogurt and surfing to Sufi; and from tips on writing
to reminiscences of Lax' lifelong friendship with the estimable
hidden message? That through the following of Lax's dicta for living
- and perhaps even by reading this interview between two inquiring
men - one may be cleansed, as might dreams by a dreamcatcher. Hence,
the author notes, the title of the book: The central image of The
Way Of The Dreamcatcher (Novalis, 2002) is that of a dreamcatcher
- which aptly reflects the distilled, clarifying lifestyle that
Lax opted for during much of his life as a reflective hermit on
the island of Patmos.
is no mere interview - The Way of the Dreamcatcher is a rare opportunity
to listen in as a splendid friendship emerges between two sensitive
and questing souls.
his prologue Georgiou - a young Californian on a spiritual quest
when he was by chance directed to the home of Lax in 1993 - talks
about what it meant to become engaged in a tutelage of some seven
years with the humble hermit. "I knew that I had found a light-giver,"
he said. "Being in his company over an extended period of time
has helped me to discover my place in a world that oftentimes seems
hollow and corrupt"
can imagine the pitfalls in writing - not to mention reading - a
volume like this, whether it might be a tendency to fawn or cloying
deify every word and nuance of the subject, or else to stray irretrievably
into a wasteland of abstraction and theoretical hairsplitting.
his credit, Georgiou has managed to avoid these pitfalls. To Lax'
credit too - in every instance where his interviewer/pupil strayed
into rarefied airs, the American poet turned Greek Island hermit
brought things down to earth with twinkling humility, comradely
chiding, or the kind of self-deprecating genial humor one might
more likely expect in a wise old uncle than a man who person after
person said during his lifetime is "the kind of man about whom
someday books may be written."
Lax was born in Olean, NY, was associated with the group of New
York artists that included the Minimal painter Ad Reinhardt and
the religious philosopher Thomas Merton, a group that exerted a
strong influence on the poets of the beat generation centered around
Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg. A graduate of Columbia, he was
befriended by the younger Kerouac who called him "one of the
great original voices of our times."
his part, Lax called the author of On The Road Jackie Kerouacie,
and spent many an evening discussing religion and other matters
late into the night with the American author.
connection to Merton is a central one - Arthur Biddle, author of
an entire book devoted to the relationship between the two in letters,
entitled "Thomas Merton and Robert Lax: A Friendship In Letters,"
notes Lax "will be familiar to readers of Thomas Merton's autobiography
The Seven Storey Mountain. The two men met as students at Columbia
University in 1935. After graduation they spent the summers of 1939
and 1940 together at Lax's family cottage in Olean, New York.
the early 1940s, Lax worked at the New Yorker magazine and did volunteer
work at Friendship House, a Catholic social ministry in New York
City. In 1943 he began teaching English at the University of North
Carolina, where he also studied for, but did not complete, a Ph.D.
in philosophy. In the late 1940's he wrote film reviews for Time
magazine, then traveled to Hollywood, California, where he worked
as a scriptwriter at Samuel Goldwyn Studios.
led a nomadic life for decades, moving between America and Europe,
and even working as a clown in an Italian Circus at one point. During
the summer of 1949 he traveled with another circus through western
Canada and recorded his impressions in his journals - an effort
later reworked into the long poem, Circus of the Sun.
in the south, the circus of the sun
Lays out its route, lifts the white tent,
Parades the pachyderm,
And pins the green chameleon to the cloth.
Coffee-mists rise above the gabbling cook-tent;
Aerialists web above the tumblers' ring;
Behold! In flaming silk, the acrobat,
The wire-walking sun.
poem - representative of a lyrical style which Lax later put aside
- was collected with two other circus-related poems in a book entitled
Circus Days and Nights, three great long poems which critics rightly
suggest place this early masterwork in a central position within
American literature during that era. Each of the three poems in
this collection expresses a reverence for the acts of daring, beauty
and grace that make the circus the singular event it is; and what
emerges is the drawing of a link between this world of the circus-wherein
a tent is erected, acts are performed, and then the tent is disassembled
only to be re-erected the next day-and Lax's faith.
the 1960s Robert Lax found the place where he would spend a large
portion of his life - on the Greek island of Patmos. He lived there
for more than 25 years, withdrawn, but at the same time conducting
a lively exchange with the world through letterwriting and other
forms of communication. The religious hermitage of his lifestyle
was well known to those who followed his progress, Kerouac calling
Lax "a pilgrim in search of beautiful innocence."
his most signature form of poetry, Robert Lax pursued a maximum
compression and economy of language - to the point where only individual
words and syllables remain which represent the essence of language.
In one poem, he repeats the word "river" some seventeen
times or so, inviting us to contemplate the empty sacred space around
the intoned word, and force us to slow down.
a portion from another, only slightly more involved in terms of
the full poem, states Georgiou, "we see Lax at his minimalist
best...a subtle and at times pulsating tension dominates the selection...the
purity of the images and their basic, honest form stimulates meditation
in the reader. If the poem is read mindfully, reverently, one is
left with a feeling of awe, if not ominous wonder."
artistic concept of reduction, in which a pause becomes as important
as the things said, made Lax a kindred spirit of the American composer
John Cage. It is no coincidence, therefore, that they both shared
a strong affinity with the clarifying aspect of Oriental art and
all the rigor and discipline of his life and writing Lax remains,
as noted by James Uebbing in a Columbia University publication,
"one of the great enigmas of American letters. A classmate
of John Berryman and a mentor of Jack Kerouac, his poetry has been
admired by writers as diverse as John Ashbery, William Maxwell,
James Agee, Allen Ginsberg, e.e. cummings, Richard Kostelanetz,
and Denise Levertov," writes Uebbing. "Yet he remains
very largely unknown, even among the editors and academics who make
their livings tracking and hunting fresh literary game."
The Way of the Dreamcatcher will help change that. Georgiou and
Lax are, as Brother Patrick Hart (last secretary to Thomas Merton)
expressed it, kindred spirits. With this book, the twosome become
guides to all who enter willingly their world of art, faith, spirit
Way of the Dreamcatcher is published in Toronto by Novalis (firstname.lastname@example.org).
To order the book in the US, contact 23rd Publications, 1-800-321-0411,
ext 142, email@example.com.