John Porter's Lightness and Soul: Musings on Eight Jewish Writers
Book Review by David Cohen
“To enter some works of art you need to take your shoes off…. You need to bow your head….”
Porter is writing about Robert Lax’s 21 Pages. Porter’s usual critical mode is a blend of empathy, enthusiasm and, at times, something verging on ecstasy. The three e’s.
“You need to fall on your knees,” he continues. “If you’re lucky enough to find a copy of 21 Pages, throw away analysis, criticism, your schooling, your prejudices, your opinions.”
Lax (1915-2000) spent much of his adult life as a voluntary exile in the Greek Islands, devoting himself to “writing, reading, drawing, doodling, walking, swimming, talking, dreaming.”
Amid much journalism, he wrote poetry. Porter focuses on Lax’s lovely “skinny poems” For example, “Thing 30”:
One can speculate: did this hyper minimalism emerge from Lax’s spiritual condition? Or did it owe something to influences emanating from the post-World War II artistic scene in New York? The minimalist painter Ad Reinhardt was a close friend of Lax’s. Better –known poets – eg., Schuyler, O’Hara, Berrigan, Padgett, etc. -- all came under the influence of painterly abstract expressionism and its minimalist offshoots (the influence probably worked the other way, too.)
Whatever Lax’s influences, his work is a revelation and Porter should be credited with bringing it to our attention.