by Joshua Edwards
Never touched earth—once in my life—
lived in a dream, always, until
the circus began to come
toward Rome . . .
So begins Robert Lax’s Voyage to Pescara, written in 1951 and first published in full in 2000 by Overlook Press, as the last third of a three-books-in-one collection, Circus Days & Nights. I won’t go on at length about Lax’s fascinating biography or the wonders of his minimalism and documentary poetics, because I’ve come to know his work only recently and I don’t have a grasp on its range, but along with George Oppen, Anne Carson, and Ernesto Cardenal, he’s already up there as one of my favorite 20th century meditative writers.
Circus Days & Nights is comprised of work written about the Cristiani circus family, and his time traveling with them in North America. The Romans were the first to use “circus” to describe arenas for performances of all sorts, and a quick search reveals the word goes back to a Greek root for “bend” or “turn.” In the brief quatrain I quoted earlier, we can almost see the bend of a planet as dawn’s light breaks, science fiction-style, from the reverse side. The poet applies the circular qualities of circus life and travel, the bends and turns, as metaphors for, among other things, creation: “By day I have circled like the sun / I have leapt like fire.” Besides being a metaphor for creation’s ongoing novas, Lax’s circus is also a study of worldly tensions and the balance of those tensions. As may be seen in the face of a tightrope walker, juggler, or teacher, balance is not without discomfort, and the balance of Lax’s circus/world is one of concentration that outwardly appears calm, but is essentially “taut with [. . .] effort.”
Because this is a blog, I feel compelled to here attend to some of the formal requirements of the genre and briefly reference blogging itself, my discomfort with blogging, and the term “air-blogger,” which was, I believe, coined by my dear and brilliant-poet friend Nick Twemlow to describe someone who talks as if they’re blogging. As I understand it, this once meant people who pretty much talk about themselves as the subject at the center of more timely subjects, in a random, sometimes-embarrassing, sometimes-aggrandizing manner. However, the “blog” seems to have changed (as language is “wont to do”), and so now a “blogger” (or “air-blogger” for that matter) is almost an archaic sort of person, someone who is living in the log cabin/hermitage (monastery?) of a blog out near Walden Pond while the Jetsons and the rest of the world plug-straps into Facebook accounts and replaces all the windows in Highrize Apartments © (not an actual multinational housing corporation . . . yet) with 3-D monitors, in order to swap out views of smog and looting for scenes from the forest moon of Endor.
I digress in order to highlight the gap or linkages between the circus of creation in Lax and the circus of the 21st century created-technology-self. I’m just a simple caveman lawyer, but I’m interested in the ways we’re choosing to go nuts about what we like in such a reclusive public way. Not that this is new at all, I’ve never seen most of the bands I like play live; but as a poet, Facebook denizen, and now a blogger, I am sorta concerned about the tensions at play and how all this shit is going to affect our minds (particularly my mind, to be blog-truthful) and, God forbid, our poetry.
Which brings me back to a more serious tone, and a cottage near Stratford on Avon, not far from where Shakespeare wrote his ditties and screenplays. Here (or nearby, I believe she’s moved since I visited twelve years ago) lives my friend Charlotte’s mother, Louisa Hare, who makes a living making beautiful folio cards of Shakespeare’s work the old-fashioned way—with hand-mixed inks and a Heidleberg platen letterpress. One card (No. 99), reads “The Life and Death of King John.” at the top, features a beautiful green ink print of a castle, and quotes a passage from the work at the bottom: “I had a thing to say, / But I will fit it with some better time.” Another (No. 44) from King Lear exclaims “Howl! Howl! Howl! Howl!” beneath an image as shocking as it is appropriate. The cards are wonderful and strange. (You can see some at [shakespearecards.com] or on the covers of some Penguin Shakespeare titles.)
It would be a Sebaldian leap of which I’m incapable to link Louisa Hare’s attentive task to that of Robert Lax, but for some reason they seem to carry for me a similar value. Their art bears the signs of being “taut with [. . .] effort,” and theirs are the sorts of work I return to when I’m able to de-friend my own Facebook self and roll up the blog scrolls. I owe both subjects much more time, but luckily I’m not a journalist (is anyone, anymore?) and this isn’t an essay, it’s not even what Rexroth liked to call an “assay,” it’s a blog, which is just sorta my thoughts, right?