Mean: shabby, of poor origin, hard to deal with. Or, excellent, skillful. Could go either way, but in the case of poems written by Thomas Lux, I mean the latter version of mean. He writes a mean poem. And sometimes he writes a dark and violent poem.”Quarrels with the world”–that’s what Lux called his dark poems, the ones with dead bodies flying through the air or Hitler wearing carefully embroidered swastikas and rising suns. Lux read at the Lakewood Cultural Center, Lakewood CO on Saturday, courtesy of Lighthouse Writers Workshop. He read and then he talked about his work. And by definition he sees poetry as work, not struck-by-inspiration folderol. Lux, in addition to having authored over a dozen books of poetry and one incipient book of prose, teaches at Georgia Institute of Technology. On Cinco de Mayo he taught by example and by conversation:
- He demonstrated the welcome presence of a reading persona; his reading voice is, he said, a little “agitated.” Lux gets agitated about cruelty.
- He’s energetic, on high alert about the discoveries made and shared in the poems.
- True obscenity, said Lux, is not defined by the seven famous words so often bleeped out, but lies in any pejorative of race and ethnicity.
- Good poems are “hospitable”; they welcome the reader or listener and require no interpretation by a third person to offset some presumed ignorance in the audience.
As a good meal begins with a skillful cook and fresh ingredients, so making a poem begins with a skillful poet and good words. Not words that do little real work in the real world, though Lux does admit the odd, the eccentric, like an uncle who wears a bow tie and sips wine from a tuna fish can. Words like ramfeezled and mizzling. Words like a bite of wasabi. His poems have humor and wisdom and little egotism.
His understanding of poetry brought to mind this submission advice from The American Poetry Journal: “The APJ is not interested in: poems about family members; poems about the poet; the poem; or writing a poem or poems with an overabundant ‘I.’” I would allow that a good poem may contain a reference to the family member. Lux writes about his daughter, but he goes beyond the autobiographical, straight to the truth. He reads 100 books a year, no novels, mostly history and biography. If I ever grow up, I want to be like Lux.