Thomas Lux

Thomas Lux

Born in Northampton, MA and raised on a nearby dairy farm, THOMAS LUX is, in the words of Stanley Kunitz, “his own kind of poet, unlike any of the fashions of his time.” Lux has said that “writing is 80% reading,” and his poems reflect his voracious/eager immersion in history, science, biography—with subject matter that ranges from mummies to magma, from Kalashnikovs to Kierkegaard to Keats, from Whitman’s brain to Jesus’ baby teeth.

Having once referred to himself as a “recovering surrealist,” Lux has gradually traded in random surprise for a more communicative stance, and now thinks of himself as an “imaginative realist,” though the qualities of Surrealism that he loves—irreverence, sudden leaps, explosiveness of imagination—are still earmarks of his work. As he says, “There’s plenty of room for strangeness, mystery, originality, wildness, etc. in poems that also invite the reader into the human and alive center about which the poem circles.” Lux pays close attention to the world, which is dark, and faces it with humor. God is weary but wants us “to have a tiny piece of him.” Both natural and no-holds-barred, the voice in the poems is often cranky and sometimes despairing about intolerance, certainty, and stupidity, but also quick with hyperbole, metaphor, and satire; playfully misanthropic, he means business, and yet he’s scrupulous and searching, too—and apt to erupt into praise and gratitude. Lux’s famously precise ear, his tonal range, and unobtrusively brilliant use of syntax are so much part of the fabric of the poems that, rather than sensing these as craft, the reader experiences them unawares, remaining invigorated and engaged. Lux is the author of multiple chapbooks, a book of prose, and more than a dozen full- length poetry collections, most recently To the Left of Time and Selected Poems, from Bloodaxe Books in the UK. His many prestigious honors include the Kingsley-Tufts Poetry Award, three NEA grants and a Guggenheim Fellowship. Lux taught for twenty- seven years on the writing faculty and as Director of the MFA Program in Poetry at Sarah Lawrence College, and has also taught at Emerson College, Warren Wilson’s MFA Program for Writers. Currently, he holds the Bourne Chair in Poetry and directs then McEver Visiting Writers Program at Georgia Tech in Atlanta. 376

Poetry Center Reading:
Fall 2015

The People of the Other Village

hate the people of this village
and would nail our hats
to our heads for refusing in their presence to remove them
or staple our hands to our foreheads
for refusing to salute them
if we did not hurt them first: mail them packages of rats,
mix their flour at night with broken glass.
We do this, they do that.
They peel the larynx from one of our brothers’ throats.
We de-vein one of their sisters.
The quicksand pits they built were good.
Our amputation teams were better.
We trained some birds to steal their wheat.
They sent to us exploding ambassadors of peace.
They do this, we do that.
We canceled our sheep imports.
They no longer bought our blankets.
We mocked their greatest poet
and when that had no effect
we parodied the way they dance
which did cause pain, so they, in turn, said our God
was leprous, hairless.
We do this, they do that.
Ten thousand (10,000) years, ten thousand
(10,000) brutal, beautiful years.

From NEW & SELECTED POEMS (Houghton Mifflin, 1997)

Refrigerator, 1957

More like a vault – you pull the handle out
and on the shelves: not a lot,
and what there is (a boiled potato
in a bag, a chicken carcass
under foil) looking dispirited,
drained, mugged. This is not
a place to go in hope or hunger.
But, just to the right of the middle
of the middle door shelf, on fire, a lit-from-within red,
heart red, sexual red, wet neon red,
shining red in their liquid, exotic,
aloof, slumming
in such company: a jar
of maraschino cherries. Three-quarters
full, fiery globes, like strippers
at a church social. Maraschino cherries, maraschino,
the only foreign word I knew. Not once
did I see these cherries employed: not
in a drink, nor on top
of a glob of ice cream,
or just pop one in your mouth. Not once.
The same jar there through an entire
childhood of dull dinners – bald meat,
pocked peas and, see above,
boiled potatoes. Maybe
they came over from the old country,
family heirlooms, or were status symbols
bought with a piece of the first paycheck
from a sweatshop,
which beat the pig farm in Bohemia,
handed down from my grandparents
to my parents
to be someday mine,
then my child’s?
They were beautiful
and, if I never ate one,
it was because I knew it might be missed
or because I knew it would not be replaced
and because you do not eat
that which rips your heart with joy.

From NEW & SELECTED POEMS (Houghton Mifflin, 1997)

Henry Clay’s Mouth

Senator, statesman, Speaker of the House,
exceptional dancer, slim,
graceful, ugly. Proclaimed, before most, slavery
an evil, broker
of elections (burned Jackson
for Adams), took a pistol ball in the thigh
in a duel, delayed by forty years,
with his compromises, the Civil War,
gambler (“I have always
paid peculiar homage to the fickle goddess”),
booze hound, ladies’ man—which leads us
to his mouth, which was huge,
a long slash across his face
with which he ate and prodigiously drank,
with which he modulated his melodic voice,
with which he liked to kiss and kiss and kiss.
He said: “Kissing is like the presidency,
it is not to be sought and not to be declined.”
A rival, one who wanted to kiss
whom he was kissing, said: “The ample
dimensions of his kissing apparatus
enabled him to rest one side of it
while the other was on active duty.”
If women had the vote,
it was written, if women had the vote,
he would have been President,
kissing everyone in sight,
dancing on tables (“a grand Terpsichorean
performance…”), kissing everyone,
sometimes two at once, kissing everyone,
the almost President
of our people.