Thomas Lux's Reading at the Marc Straus Gallery

Thomas Lux blogs about his P&W-funded reading at Marc Straus, an art gallery in New York City. Lux is Bourne Professor of Poetry at the Georgia Institute of Technology. He has two new books out this fall—the poetry collection Child Made of Sand (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) and his nonfiction debut From the Southland (Marick Press).

I’ve never written a blog before and I’ve only read a handful of them. I can use e-mail (an excellent invention), and the computer is a very a sophisticated typewriter. I remember when Poets & Writers Magazine started. I believe the early issues were stapled, short newsletters. Maybe mimeographed? Now it’s grown in range and depth and is an important read for most contemporary writers.

It was once possible to keep up with virtually all of contemporary poetry—the number of presses and literary magazines were finite, and limited to print. Books from big houses and books from independent presses (then called “small presses”) looked pretty ugly, frankly, compared to books today, because of our enormous improvements in printing technology. They're many more venues for poetry today. Poetry is showing up everywhere.

P&W recently put a few bucks in my pocket. In mid-September, I gave a reading in New York City with Marc Straus at the Marc Straus Gallery on Grand Street. I’ve known Marc for over twenty years since he took a class of mine at the 92nd Street Y. We became friends. Marc’s a medical oncologist and, with his wife, Livia, a major collector of contemporary art. Marc is also a poet. He’s published three books: One Word, Not God, and Symmetry. Many of his poems deal with his experience as an oncologist. He writes sometimes in the voice of the doctor and sometimes in the voice of a patient. Only a real poet and oncologist can write the poems he writes. He recently opened his own art gallery, directly across Grand Street from a drapery store his father owned and ran many decades ago, and where Marc worked as a child. Here’s one of his poems, "Scarlet Crown": 

I met a man my age running a greenhouse.

He pointed to the pots with pride, saying

they contained a thousand separate cacti.

Not much interest in these when I started,

he said. He pointed to the barbed bristles

(glochids), the bearing cushions (areoles),

and the names of many of the 200 genera:

Brain, Button, Cow-tongue, Hot Dog, Lace,

Coral, and Silver ball. In my work,

I said, I’m burdened with such straight-

forward terms: lung cancer, lymphoma,

breast cancer, leukemia. I’d love

to switch to: Pond-lily, Star,

or Scarlet Crown. Really, he said,

pointing to other plants, named

Hatchet, Devil, Dagger, Hook, and

Snake—or perhaps a diagnosis of this:

Rat-tail, White-chin, Wooly-torch,

or Dancing Bones.

The show up at the time was by a painter, seventy-nine-year-old Charles Hinman, who’d only recently received a Guggenheim Fellowship, and who’d been painting in relative obscurity for decades in a rent controlled studio just a few blocks from the gallery. I like reading surrounded by art. (Note: the show was a big hit.) Afterwards, someone handed me a rather generous check from P&W. And ditto another check the next night at a Page Meets Stage reading at Poets House. I read with a spoken-word artist/poet named Jon Sands. (To be continued in the next blog post...)

Photo: Thomas Lux. 

Support for Readings/Workshops in New York City is provided, in part, by public funds from the New York State Council on the Arts and the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs, with additional support from the Louis & Anne Abrons Foundation, the Axe-Houghton Foundation, The Cowles Charitable Trust, the Abbey K. Starr Charitable Trust, and the Friends of Poets & Writers.