McGregor, Michael N. “Pure Act: The Uncommon Life of Robert Lax”, Fordham University Press, 2015.
A Life of Celibacy
Robert Lax was a poet who was mainly interested in writing for himself. He was a worldly man who chose to live a celibate life. In this biography of Michael N. McGregor, a professor at Portland State University, we learn that Lax had no need for human company and he dismisses the idea that Lax was secretly gay. Lax was born in Olean, N.Y., in 1915 and he eventually moved to the Greek island of Kalymnos, close to the coast of Turkey, in 1964. While there for some ten years, he was a stranger to the other residents because they resented what they saw as American involvement in the Turkish takeover of northern Cyprus in 1974. Lax left the island for a while at that time and it was not until he returned that he realized that people whom he liked and admired thought him a spy, and that he was being tracked by the police. He lost his house, whereupon he moved to the nearby “holy isle” of Patmos. It was there that McGregor met him in 1985.
McGregor and Lax shared religious faith in their belief that God was watching over them. This hovers over the biography. Before committing himself to poetry, Lax had a remarkably varied career. At “The New Yorker” he mainly answered letters to the editor, at “Life” he was a book reviewer and at “Time” he was as a film critic, even though he was ill equipped for any of these tasks. Because McGregor and Lax were such close friends, we do get a sense of detachment and for me this hurt the book. I would have liked a better sense of objectivity.
Lax was dedicated to finding his authentic self and this is the thrust of the biography. He considered that search to be the most important thing he ever did.This is a story with many surprises and beauty and above all else we are taking into the man’s life.