Thomas Lux (1946 - 2017)
(Image (c) Michael Skinner, Technique)
Born in Northampton, Massachusetts, in 1946 to working class parents, Thomas Lux attended Emerson College and the University of Iowa. In addition to being on the writing faculties of the country's most prestigious M.F.A. and Creative Writing Programs (Columbia University, Boston University, University of Iowa, University of Michigan, University of Houston, and the University of California, Irvine, among others), Thomas Lux taught at Sarah Lawrence College for twenty-seven years, the last nineteen of which, he was director of its M.F.A. Program in Poetry.
He began publishing haunted, ironic poems that owed much to the Neo-surrealist movement in the 1970s. From his first book Memory’s Handgrenade (1972), Lux’s poetry gradually evolved toward a more direct treatment of immediately available, though no less strange, human experience. Using ironic or sardonic speakers, startlingly apt imagery, careful rhythms, and reaching into history for subject matter, Lux created a body of work that is at once accessible and complex, wildly imaginative and totally relevant. Known for pairing humor with sharp existentialism, Lux commented in the Los Angeles Times, "I like to make the reader laugh—and then steal that laugh, right out of the throat. Because I think life is like that, tragedy right alongside humor."
Lux published fourteen books of poems, most recently To the Left of Time, and several limited edition books that earned him, among other awards and prizes, the $100,000 Kingsley Tufts Poetry Prize, four Pushcart Prizes, and grants from the Mellon Foundation, the Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, and three from the National Endowment for the Arts. Lux was also awarded the Robert Creeley Award. He was further honored with the Bank of New York Award for Excellence in Teaching. In 2003, Lux was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Letters from Emerson College, Boston. He also edited and wote the introduction for Bill Knott's I Am Flying into Myself: Selected Poems 1960-2014 (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2017).
As a teacher
Lux saw nothing at all antithetical about poetry and poetry-writing classes in a technological environment.
The making of art, good art, whether it be poems, paintings, or musical compositions, is a task that requires a kind of engineering, a kind of architecture, and vast technical skills. Good art, historically, is made; it doesn't just happen--it's a result of planning, rigor, attention, intuition, trial and error, discipline, and the luck that sometimes comes when all of the above are applied. We need poetry now more than ever. Poetry, and all of the arts, can help us cope and understand the world around us. The arts allow us, and allow us access to, human expression, a precious and necessary freedom. Poetry, the act of making or reading a poem, is by nature an affirmative act, an act of creation and possibilities.
Thomas Lux could be counted on to use his whole heart and his inexhaustible energy to help Tech students explore and discover the joy and passion, the deep human life force that fills all good art. In addition to his duties on campus, Lux directed a multi-tiered poetry-writing program in the Atlanta and Georgia Arts community.
Published full-length poetry collections
- Memory's Handgrenade (Pym-Randall, 1972)
- The Glassblower's Breath (Cleveland State, 1976)
- Sunday (Houghton Mifflin, 1979)
- Half Promised Land (Houghton Mifflin, 1986)
- The Drowned River: New Poems (Houghton Mifflin, 1990)
- Split Horizon (Houghton Mifflin, 1994)
- The Blind Swimmer: Selected Early Poems 1970 - 1975 (Adastra Press, 1996)
- New and Selected Poems: 1975 - 1995 (Houghton Mifflin, 1997)
- The Street of Clocks (Houghton Mifflin, 2001)
- The Street of Clocks, British Edition (Arc Publishing, 2003)
- The Cradle Place (Houghton Mifflin, 2004)
- God Particles (Houghton Mifflin, 2008)
- Child Made of Sand (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2012)
- To the Left of Time (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2016)
Tributes and News
- New York Times tribute to Thomas Lux, 22 Feb 2017
- Atlanta Journal Constitution tribute to Thomas Lux, 6 Feb 2017
- Boston Globe, 'Thomas Lux, 70, poet known for his generosity as writer, teacher', 13 Feb 2017
- Stuart Dischell's profile and tribute to Thomas Lux in Ploughshares, Issue 136, Summer 2018