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Pure Act: The Uncommon Life of Robert Lax (Catholic Practice in North America) Paperback – 3 Apr 2017
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Pure Act is an admiring biography, one that is well-researched and written with affection...While Lax's strange life--McGregor calls it an "uncommon" life--will not cause readers to emulate it, it will provoke them to ponder what it is to be fully human. This is, of course, one of the principal functions of biography, needed now more than ever.--Dana Greene "National Catholic Reporter "
Tender, thorough, meticulous, an act of fine and generous and wonderfully sharp-eyed sharp-eared witness. The riveting mystic Robert Lax would have been delighted at the care and reverence with which Michael McGregor celebrates and resurrects and delves an extraordinary American's many-layered life.--Brian Doyle "Mink River "
"[Robert Lax] was invariably hospitable and welcoming, his presence gentle, humorous, and patient. In short, there's never been anyone like him, and Pure Act, in its offering of a detailed recounting of his life and an acute presentation and analysis of his too-neglected poetry, gives him to us: the gift of a human being unlike any other."--C.K. Williams
This is a biography to which I will return for inspiration.--Rev. Ted Huffman
Michael McGregor's Pure Act is an outstanding contribution to Lax studies and greatly enriches our understanding of the poet-sage, giving readers much unpublished and little-known material.--S.T. Georgiou "In the Beginning Was Love: Contemplative Words of Robert Lax "
"Pure Act is much more than a biography. It's a real and full and personal meditation on life, and on what a life is for.--Karen Fisher "A Sudden Country "
A thoroughly researched and compassionate look at the remarkable life of Robert Lax. Those who know him only as a close friend of Thomas Merton will be delighted with the person they find in these pages: an influential poet, a voice for peace, a wanderer and seeker after truth. Many sought Lax out at his Patmos home; McGregor has made his wisdom available to all.--Kathleen Norris "The Cloister Walk and Dakota: A Spiritual Geography "
[Pure Act] is a deeply moving book concerning how one man followed his own golden string to heaven's gate, one tug at a time.--Nicholas Colloff "Golgonooza "
[Pure Act] will help re-awaken your idealism.--Ron Rolheiser, OMI
"This grace-filled biography is a book I have for years been hoping someone might write, and now, thanks to Michael McGregor, this has become an answered prayer. With grace and insight McGregor bears witness to the evolution of a great artist who is seamlessly connected to his art."--Jim Forest "Loving Our Enemies: Reflections on the Hardest Commandment and Living with Wisdom: A Biography of Thomas Merton "
A fond biography of an unworldly man…vivid and engaging.
A monkish naïve character dedicated to God and writing, Lax maintained his gnomic humour throughout. This was a man of more Beatitude than Beat. Invited by Billie Holiday to go to her apartment to smoke dope and listen to jazz records, McGregor tells us, he declined.
Drawing on his friendship with poet Robert Lax (1915–2000) and his close readings of Lax's writings, McGregor eloquently offers the definitive biography of a too often forgotten figure who influenced a number of writers and crafted spirituality out of his deep commitment to love, poverty, and justice . . . The book effectively brings to life Lax's 'pure act'―naturally living out his God-given abilities without becoming mired in judging others.
Presenting Lax as an embodiment of the 'wisdom of simplicity' and himself as a 'naïve boy who had washed up on his shores', McGregor becomes both unobtrusive character and reliable narrator in this text, connected to Lax by the author’s own need for personal searching.
“Biographer Michael McGregor periodically visited [Lax] in Greece starting in 1985; his authorial reflections set the tone and character for his excellent biography, revealing the tug-and-pull of the particular in Lax's life.”
“McGregor, who discovered Lax after reading Merton’s classic book The Seven-Storey Mountain as a young man, subtitles his biography The Uncommon Life of Robert Lax. The poet, who spent most of his life living an austere, quiet life in Greece, latterly on the island of Patmos, regarded his dwelling place as 'like living in a church.'”
Pure Act is a homage, a love letter, an apologia for a curious poetics, and a well-considered story about an uncommon man and his very uncommon life. For us, it may prove something of a wake-up call as well. (Scott Cairns)
Pure Act is an admiring biography, one that is well-researched and written with affection...While Lax's strange life--McGregor calls it an "uncommon" life--will not cause readers to emulate it, it will provoke them to ponder what it is to be fully human. This is, of course, one of the principal functions of biography, needed now more than ever. (Dana Greene)
“[Robert Lax] was invariably hospitable and welcoming, his presence gentle, humorous, and patient. In short, there’s never been anyone like him, and Pure Act, in its offering of a detailed recounting of his life and an acute presentation and analysis of his too-neglected poetry, gives him to us: the gift of a human being unlike any other.” (C.K. Williams)
Michael McGregor's Pure Act is an outstanding contribution to Lax studies and greatly enriches our understanding of the poet-sage, giving readers much unpublished and little-known material. (S.T. Georgiou)
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I am a long time reader of American poet, Robert Lax. I loved him from the first poem that I read. Not just his poetry, but him, even though I knew little about his life.
Lax is not just a person, but also a Way. His life is Prayer. Readers of Lax somehow know that what Lax is doing with his life is not distinct from his art. As his writings become more and more sparse we sense that his life is also becoming more pure. More honest. More authentic.
The little that we know about Lax’s life itself, we gather from his journals or what other people say about him. We know that he was odd, different, but in a way that was special and not weird. People liked Lax and liked to be around him. Mothers left their children with him.
McGregor explores this oddness and gives us many details to consider and mull over. We get the inner story as well as the outer one. We can no longer idealize Lax as Lax, himself, idealized the Greek people on the islands he called home. Lax becomes a human being and his world becomes much more like our own flawed and mysterious one. We see the way he struggles with the cold, with finding a place to live, with finding money.
Through “Pure Act” we can watch Lax as he finds his way. His journal is his journey; his journey is his journal. He pays attention. Lax is always listening, always watching, waiting, and reaches deep places of awareness. His writing becomes those precise notes that can awaken us as well.
Thank you, Michael N. McGregor, for taking the time to write this book so well.
I think a reason why 'Pure Act' works at this level and depth is because McGregor goes beyond the classical biographical form of iterated accumulated facts and includes himself and his relationship over many years with Lax. Beyond that the author goes to the depth of Lax's thought and spirit. Not that is as psychobiography, although one feels the elements of the poet's background are all included, but beyond that to his intent to transform life as far as possible into pure action such as he saw in jazz musicians and saints and regarded,with St.Thomas, as expressed fully in God.
So this is an adventure of mind and spirit, an encounter with a unique life and man and a deep meditation on the sources of all life and art.
Well, I am both ashamed and delighted to admit that I couldn’t have been more mistaken. Delighted because Michael McGregor has not only brought back to me the Bob Lax that I knew and loved, but much, much more. There were so many things about his past that he never talked about—particularly his long spiritual and creative journey through an often torturous Dark Night of the Soul in Manhattan, Hollywood, and even his beloved Kalymnos until he finally emerged into the blessed light of his final & and considerably fruitful decades on Patmos. There he was at last able to achieve and settle into a state of what I can only called grace, in which his attention was almost fully devoted to the here & now, the “pure act” & “pure love” of the present moment. To try and explain this to me (without saying he was explaining it) he once said to me, “When you get up in the morning, pay attention to which shoe you put on first. Just do that—and keep that attention going for everything else you do, for as long as you can.” Practice makes perfect. And in his case, it did.
Once I began reading Prof. McGregor’s book, I found it almost impossible to tear myself away. And when I did, I longed to get back to it, to learn something new from the author’s research (he explication, for example, of a sponge diver’s life & technique is masterful), from his superb analysis of Bob’s poetry, and most of all, from his beautifully written & highly sensitive evocation of Bob as both a human being (warts & all) & someone who, in his own modest way, was about as close to sainthood as you and I will ever see. I had no idea how much I still miss him. And I thank God (and Professor McGregor!) for bringing him back!