Talking to students at the Dodge Festival in 2000, Thomas Lux described his life as a poet as “like any other job. You pack your lunch pail and you go to work.” This very down-to-earth approach of reveals something essential about Lux: he understands that the work itself is too challenging, and too important, to be romanticized.
This does not mean the creative act is lacking mystery. No one knows where inspiration comes from, but for Lux, to therefore imagine all artists have to do is wait passively for it to arrive is to trivialize the real work of art.
Listen to him read his poem “Soup Teachers,” talk briefly about craft, and then read an English translation of Pablo Neruda’s “Ode to Tomatoes.”
“Soup Teachers” contains some of the key features of many of Lux’s poems: a natural rhythm, as if it could fall easily off anyone’s tongue; keen observations of everyday people and places, with details that strike us immediately for their accuracy, familiarity and the compassion of the speaker; humor; great heart; and utter unpredictability.
As we learn during his brief comments on poetry and craft between poems, the natural sounding rhythm in his poems is the result of careful crafting and repeated revisions – at least fifteen drafts, and often many more. The goal, Lux tells us, is to make the poem appear utterly effortless, as if it just flowed from the poet’s pen. Then immediately admits, “to create that illusion I, anyway, have to sweat blood.”
And there is a feeling of utter rightness and inevitability in Lux’s poems, even as they take us into places we had never expected them to go. The opening lines of “Soup Teachers” in a way prepare us for the poem’s closing, and yet we trust Lux as he takes us there.
Why? It’s not only that the voice wins us over almost immediately by its lack of pretense and that the speaker gains our trust by being such a reliable observer. Those are only characteristics of something larger: The speaker isn’t out to impress us. He is on a journey to discover what it means to live, love and die in our shared human world, and he welcomes us to join him.
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