I went to see Thomas Lux read the other night at Smith College. I hadn’t read much Lux before, so I didn’t know what to expect. I figured it’s the last night of summer and the chill of fall is in the air, so why not go to a poetry reading? It was a whim, so I was surprised to discover a voice I’m eager to explore and learn from. I learned something, too, about how poems actually unfold as they’re being spoken—I experienced them in a physical, concrete way I seldom do at readings. It was enough to keep my hands warm in the chilly air on the walk across campus back to the car.
It had something to do with the way Lux read. He was focused deeply on the poems, the experience of them. I witnessed a poet not reciting poems, but living them. They had flesh and breath. He read them slowly and naturally, with a certain amount of emphasis for flavor, but without affectation. He held the book with his right hand, his left hand often moving freely with the sound and action of the poems. It gave the poems body. Sometimes by accident he’d knock the microphone—no matter, it only underscored how ridiculous and unnecessary microphones are.
Lux read exclusively from his forthcoming (2016) collection, To the Left of Time, which contains poems that are mostly odes, he said. In the poems there was hay dust flying, and all the little cuts that get your arms when you’re haying and which sting suddenly hours later when washing up. There were swords settling at the bottom of river beds and kids venturing out onto untested ice. There were those pigeon-holing high school aptitude tests and the summer job painting fire hydrants red, the summer everyone asked about your bloodstained clothes. What struck me is that Lux is in perfect control–of voice and pacing, syntax and image. There’s nothing extraneous, nothing to distract. Every word lands just right. A spare directness is elegantly braided with more complex mysteries.
I’m looking forward to the new collection, and I look forward to becoming better acquainted with Lux’s oeuvre. Here’s a brief introduction to Lux and his work. Here’s a poem he read at Smith from the forthcoming book: “Ode to the Unbroken World, Which Is Coming.” And here’s “Empty Pitchforks” from New and Selected Poems 1975-1995.