US poet and 'inspirational teacher' Thomas Lux dies at 70

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The American poet and university teacher Thomas Lux, who has died at the age of 70, has been described as “an inspirational teacher” by one of his former students.

Lux’s poetry has appeared in the two bestselling Bloodaxe anthologies, Being Alive and Staying Alive, and he read at the Aldeburgh poetry festival in 2014. One of his former poetry students, Tamar Yoseloff, herself now a tutor at the Poetry School, said: “He was my first significant poetry tutor, back at Sarah Lawrence College in the late 80s. He was a legend on campus, notable for his long hair and cowboy boots (it was remarkable, even when I saw him last in 2014, that he never seemed to change).

“He'd quit smoking years before he was my teacher, but he had a habit of chain-chewing menthol sticks, which he'd do while reading poems -- it seemed to improve his thinking. All his advice and good practice has stayed with me, and I find I am quoting him back to my students even now. He was one of the most inspirational teachers I've known, sometimes quite a tough critic, but he was determined to get the best out of his students, to impress upon us that it takes hard work to make a good poem. I can't read his poems without hearing his voice -- his work was so much an extension of his humour, his way of viewing the world.”

Lux, who was professor of poetry at the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta, was born in Northampton, Massachusetts, and raised on a dairy farm. He published 12 collections of poetry. His collection was Half Promised Land in 1986 marked a sea change in his work. His later books include New and Selected Poems 1975-1995, published in 1997, which shows the poet before and after his "recovery" from Surrealism. He has published two books of poetry in Britain, The Street of Clocks (Arc) in 2001, and his Selected Poems (2014) from Bloodaxe.

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David Andrew

Tue 7th Feb 2017 19:12

Lux is up there in my admiration for American Poetry. This admiration was better put, by me, in poetry rather than prose. So here is a poem for him, originally published in Issue 24 of Poetry Salzburg Review. (Would also recommend Tony Hoagland and B H Fairchild).

For Thomas Lux

1. Trajectory

Your poems come from a long way off.
Dwell in my skull before working their way
into my bones. Where do they come from:
the scars of past hurts, clenching
your teeth while you smile?

Faced with the broken - in case we fall,
you've drawn up a map showing a rough
way to a settlement. At first route a
puzzle, till we learn to avoid those shells you
lob into our vanities, our ungrounded fears.

Then, I grant, true terrors will
scare us to the place you've shown us,
your navigation true,
hidden away in our sleep.

*

Your poems come from a summer
long ways ago: blonde, innocent days,
all the same length despite the seasons.
You write as from a winter outside Eden,
even when the sun shines. Out here

even the innocent, the innocent
especially, hear the dark horses.
They came from their own distance,
to join us here where limbs break, hearts tear,
hands reach out - but love has fled.

Seeking out the shortest route between
smiles, enough distance from hurt, your poems
come a long journey that ends here:
not what you've learnt but that you care.


2. Pilgrimage

You surprise with a sense of the holy;
perhaps you were born with it. We,
touching the world, not born entire, seek
evidence of God by wild roadsides.
If pilgrims are, they travel not to
redemption but to drown anxieties
in sleep, tired with the excitement
of elsewhere.

We cannot demand the holy, must
wait, cameras hungry, expecting
a gift (hidden like sun behind clouds)
to break through. I'm not sure, are you?,
if even stones wait for another's
touch, water's word, an occasional
embrace of snow, animal's tread.

Who survive in a world they must know -
because its shape holds them, count their
every breath. Horse in a snowy
field. Oyster-catcher on a pole, looking
out over a Northern harbour. Poppy
seeds in an envelope marked with
last year's date.

A woman, waiting in my mind until
she's sure it's safe to come out,
knows how what's holy works,
will remind me. You have that sense.
Perhaps you found it, discarded at
the roadside, on your way through a world
where, breathless, we're quite struck dumb.

David Andrew

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