In February, 2017, the poet Thomas Lux died of lung cancer at his home in Atlanta, Georgia. I was unaware of his passing until months later when I snagged on his name in an “In Memoriam” section of a magazine. The sneaky-swift riptides of shock and shame curled in under my midsection—shock: the confrontation of another’s non-existence; and shame: possessing an innate ignorance despite claiming an acquired awareness. At the conclusion of 2017, now finally typing in its successor, it is that intersection of simple sadness and horizon-scanning curiosity that I’m assessing.
It’s certainly not hero-worship, though I would count Lux as one of my fundamental mentors. And it eclipses belly-bitching melancholy. There exists a group of influential individuals who’ve not cleaved to the social-media precincts which have seduced so many (indicting myself here, too) over the past decade and some change, and I find myself scrambling to keep pace with the creative rhythms which provided so much (wince, if you must) galvanic inspiration.
My corporeal clock ticked-over to forty this past year, and in exercises which aim to strike a balance between conducive reflection and solipsistic introspection, I ruminate on the late poet Lux and what his work did for me. “A poet may not be a hero,” wrote Stephen Dobyns, “but I can think of many who have been heroic, since certainly it is heroic to put the ego in jeopardy.”
My first encounter with Lux—one of his poems, rather—came during a rather unforgiving winter in 2004. After returning from Chicago, I’d taken to the notion of completing a bachelor’s degree (which had been simmering on departmental and bursar back-burners for a number of years), hewing toward the disciplines of my newfound preoccupation with creative writing. I’d been privately penning some rather painful free-verse; and it wasn’t until I’d tapped-in to the frequencies of Thomas Lux (and for that matter, the works of Adrienne Rich, Charles Simic, Tomas Tranströmer, Kumin) that my amateur endeavors began to gain some modulation.
“Snake Lake,” Thomas Lux
My friends, I hope you will not swim here:
this lake isn’t named for what it lacks.
This is not just another vacant scare.
They’re in there—knotted, cruel, and thick
with poison, some of them. Others bite
you just for fun—they love that curve
along the white soft side of your foot,
or your lower calf, or to pierce the nerves
with their needles behind your knees.
Just born, the babies bite you all the same.
They don’t care how big you are—please
do not swim here. There is no shame
in avoiding what will kill you: cool pleasure
of this water. Do not even dip your toes
in, because they’ll hurt you, or worse,
carry you away on their backs—no,
not in homage, but to bite you as you sink.
Do not, my friends, swim here: I like you
living: this is what I believe, what I think.
Do not swim here—lest the many turn to few.
In the summer of 2004, a number of coincidences which were punctuated by an unlikely tag-along invitation to accompany an MFA-student-acquaintance to Warren Wilson College outside Asheville, North Carolina (where they were finalizing said degree). As it happened, Thomas Lux was an instructor at the time. To recount my happenstance meeting and its ensuing discussion with him would dilute the point: that, in my neophyte enterprises, I’d been appraising the triangulation of symbolic abstraction, manifest fulfillment, and the ossified insulation of the real—a contextual balance of emotion, intellectuality, physicality.
“A Little Tooth,” Thomas Lux
Your baby grows a tooth, then two,
and four, and five, then she wants some meat
directly from the bone. It’s all
over: she’ll learn some words, she’ll fall
in love with cretins, dolts, a sweet
talker on his way to jail. And you,
your wife, get old, flyblown, and rue
nothing. You did, you loved, your feet
are sore. It’s dusk. Your daughter’s tall.
Like Lux’s poems, there were companionable comforts which sustained me in 2017. Not the least of which being the actual friendships I’ve gained and maintained over the past few years—friendships which are less the result of ephemeral popularity, but the actual twofold transmission of ink and image. Along with some ancillary notes on the progression of publication, here are some mediums which provided more than a little contentment.
I had some ferocious companions this past year; and though some of the albums are a few years old, they provided an infusion of vibrant acidic-electricity, making the mundane vagaries of our typical day-to-day more tolerable. Here’s what I’ve got:
- Power Trip: Nightmare Logic (2017)
- River Black: River Black (2017)
- Scour: Scour (2017)
- Vektor: Terminal Redux (2016)
- Iron Reagan: Crossover Ministry (2017)
- Crimeny: Peat (1994)
- Bolt Thrower: Mercenary (1998)
- Magna Carta Cartel: The Demon King (2017)
- Night Demon: Darkness Remains (2017)
- I: Between Two Worlds (2006)
- Steely Dan: The Royal Scam (1976)
- Immortal: Damned in Black (2000)
- Immolation: Atonement (2017)
Just like some of my writing exercises, I find myself with a similar confession about reading: I don’t do it as much as I used to or need to. Still: here’s a portion of what I was able to get under my belt:
- His Bloody Project, Graeme Macrae Burnet
- Bodies of Water, V.H. Leslie
- From A People of Strange Language, Christopher Slatsky
- Palladium at Night, Christopher Slatsky
- The Secret of Ventriloquism, by Jon Padgett
- Worse Than Myself, Adam Golaski
- With a Voice that is Often Still Confused But is Becoming Ever Louder and Clearer, by J.R. Hamantaschen
- The English Patient, Michael Ondaatje
- Stoner, John Williams
- Phantasm/Chimera, edited by Scott Dwyer (which included my story, “Fiending Apophenia”)
- Sweet land Stories, E.L. Docotrow
- Nightscript, Vol. III, edited by CM Muller (which included my story, “The Undertow, and They That Dwell Therein”)
- The Bottoms, Joe Landsdale
- Mrs. God, Peter Straub
Because free time is spare and a rare commodity during the week, I’m tallying serial vehicles as well.
- They Look Like People (2015)
- Super Dark Times (2017)
- Absentia (2011)
- A Dark Song (2016)
- Thor: Ragnarok (2017)
- The Invitation (2015)
- Hush (2016)
- Stranger Things 2 (2017)
- It (2017)
- Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017)