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NYT Book Review : 'Pure Act: The Uncommon Life of Robert Lax'

26th December 2015

Pure Act: The Uncommon Life of Robert Lax,’ by Michael N. McGregor


Robert Lax, 1986. Photo credit: Nancy Goldring

To describe Robert Lax as a minimalist poet does scant justice to the reedlike shape of his “vertical” poems. A typical page in his most comprehensive book, “Poems (1962-1997),” might contain 20 words arranged in columnar form, a single syllable or punctuation mark to each line. One poem consists of “ro / ber / to” — the name Lax was often called in his adopted country, Greece — repeated three times, followed by “cries / the / roos / ter” with the final pair of syllables again thrice repeated.

This can be curiously beguiling, over a brief period, but Lax’s poetry has little of the visual playfulness or verbal ingenuity of like-minded members of that broad church known as concrete poetry, like Ian Hamilton Finlay, the Scottish poet and artist with whom Lax corresponded.

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