Tag Archives: Beats in Greece

Happy 99th Birthday, Robert Lax!

30 Nov

circus

Robert Lax was born on this day in 1915 in Olean, in the Southern Tier region of New York.

Lax studied poetry with Mark Van Doren at Columbia University and graduated in 1938, right before Jack Kerouac arrived on campus. Similarly, they both took on a life of wandering. Lax worked for some prestigious magazines — The New Yorker and Time — and then joined the circus as a juggler.

Eventually, he found his way to the Greek island of Patmos. The island is known as a place of pilgrimage, as the apostle John had lived there. Lax himself went on to live here for more than thirty years, living the life of a hermit and writing beautiful poetry.

Kerouac indeed did end up getting in contact with his fellow alum. You can read his letter to him in Jack Kerouac: Selected Letters, 1940-1956.

Remembering Alan Ansen

12 Nov

disorderly

On this day in 2006 we lost Alan Ansen.

Today we celebrate his life and work. Ansen, a graduate of Harvard, was secretary to none other than the great W. H. Auden, who had come to New York City in 1939. He hung out with Jack Kerouac, William S. Burroughs,  Allen Ginsberg, and Gregory Corso, and is even written into their works. By the 1960s, he had moved to Greece, where he lived on Alopekis Street in Athens, and hung out with other expatriate poets such as James Merrill (who went on to get the Pulitzer Prize in Poetry in 1977), Chester Kallman (one of Auden’s lovers), and Rachel Hadas (who went on to receive the Guggenheim Fellowship).

Ansen passed away in Athens at the age of eight-four, but leaves behind his poetry and prose. Check out:

I think reading someone’s work is one of the best way to celebrate their life. Do you have a favorite poem by Ansen?

Remembering Juggling-Poet Robert Lax!

26 Sep

lax

Born in Olean, New York, Robert Lax studied poetry at Columbia, worked for The New Yorker, cofounded the Catholic publication Jubilee, joined the circus, spent thirty-five years on the Greek island of Patmos, and took up a type of meditation founded by Eknath Easwaran before returning to Olean just weeks before he passed away there on this day in 2000.

Lax never achieved the level of success that some of his colleagues did. He was friends with Columbia alum and Trappist monk Thomas Merton and the abstract expressionist Ad Reinhardt, both of whose work reached a wider audience. Yet early on in his career, Kerouac wrote to Lax, praising his work. The New York Times Book Review favorably reviewed Lax’s poetry book Circus of the Sun.

Lax’s work was collected by editor Jim Uebbing as Love had a Compass: Journals and Poetry. Here’s the overview from Barnes & Noble:

Every generation of poets seems to harbor its own hidden genius, one whose stature and brilliance come to light after his talent has already been achieved. The same drama of obscurity that attended the discovery of Emily Dickinson and Wallace Stevens is suggested by the career of Robert Lax. An expatriate American whose work to date—more than forty books—has been published mostly in Europe, this eighty-year-old poet built a following in this country among figures as widespread as E. E. Cummings, Jack Kerouac, and Sun Ra. The works in “Love Had a Compass” represent every stage of Lax’s development as a poet, from his early years in the 1910s as a staff writer for the “New Yorker” to his present life on the Greek island of Patmos. An inveterate wanderer, Lax’s own sense of himself as both exile and pilgrim is carefully evoked in his prose journals and informs the pages of the Marseille Diaries, published here for the first time. Together with the poems, they provide a portrait of one of the most striking and original poets of our age.

Here’s what Publisher’s Weekly said:

Lax is a somewhat legendary poet known primarily for two reasons: he traveled in a circle in the 1930s that included Thomas Merton, John Berryman, Robert Giroux and Ad Reinhardt; and he has lived and written on the Greek island of Patmos since the early 1960s. This combination of famous friendships and personal obscurity has added heat to his reputation but not much lighthis poetry has been obscured by his myth. This volume, however, will likely introduce Lax’s considerable poetic power to a wider audience. Uebbing’s introduction captures the essence of Lax’s work: “A simple response to a simple moment”; “much of his work is almost devoid of imagery.” Lax’s early poems are a mix of emotionality (“for we must seek/ by going down,/ down into the city/ for our song”) and formal experimentation (“black/ black/ white/ white/ black/ black/ white/ white”). But his finest work can be seen in the previously unpublished sequence of poems, Port City: The Marseille Diaries. Drawing on the people and places he encountered during an extended, down-and-out time in the city during the 1950s, in “Port City” Lax finally declares his mission: “I will sing you/ of the moments/ sing you/ of those/ possibly/ meaningless moments.”

Lax’s funeral was held at St. Bonaventure University. Excerpts of his poem were distributed.

Happy 84th Birthday, Gregory Corso!

26 Mar

corso-gasoline

Gregory Nunzio Corso was born on March 26, 1930, in New York City. He would’ve been 84 today.

He’s one of my favorite poets, and to celebrate his wit and warmth, here is a link to his poem “I Am 25.”

You may also like:::

Dreams of European Picnics

3 Jun

 

Two nonfiction writers in my MFA program individually suggested that I check out Saveur, and I’m so glad they recommended the culinary magazine to me!  It’s always full of such mouthwatering images of food and recipes I’d love to taste test.  This week, the article “Menu: A French Picnic for Early Summer” arrived in my inbox.  Sometimes I think I must’ve been French in another lifetime.  I’ve always thought of myself more as an Anglophile than a Francophile, but there’s just something so charming and whimsical about the whole French flea-market aesthetic.

A summer or two ago, I read Barry Miles’ The Beat Hotel, about the years Beat Generation writers Allen Ginsberg, William S. Burroughs, and Gregory Corso lived at 9 rue Git-le-Coeur on the Left Bank of Paris.  Wouldn’t it be lovely to have a long, leisurely picnic of baguette and chevre along the Seine?  Experiencing communion with God while drinking cabernet sauvignon and contemplating the enormous rose window of Cathedrale Notre-Dame de Paris?  Reading bohemian and Beat poetry and penning poems in a pocket journal?

Sometimes I wish the Greek aesthetic lent itself to a more feminine and whimsical feel.  I picture triangles of tiropita, squares of feta cheese generously sprinkled with oregano, and delicate twists of diples dripping with honey and cinnamon all laid out on an off-white doily-like tablecloth crocheted by my yiayia.  Someone is fingerpicking an ornate bouzouki, and I’m reading about how Allen Ginsberg sailed to Greece in 1961 to track down his love.  And I am writing stories about cultivating a garden of memories in Greece.