Smith Poetry Series: Thomas Lux

Thomas Lux, a Northampton native, read his poetry to captivated audience at the Poetry Center.

Photo by Maia Erslev ’18 | Thomas Lux, a Northampton native, read his poetry to captivated audience at the Poetry Center.

Juliana Lillehei ’19
Contributing Writer

How do poets choose their subjects? According to Thomas Lux, who kicked off the Smith Fall 2015 Poetry Series on Sept. 22, they do not. “Our subjects pick us,” Lux said. “Something strikes us as having metaphorical possibility. A poem has to find its thought.”

During a Q&A session at the Poetry Center Tuesday afternoon, Lux quoted liberally from Robert Frost while fielding questions ranging from his poetic sensibility to his role as Chair of Poetry at the Georgia Institute of Technology.

Highlights from the session include Lux’s advice to aspiring poets to “read till you bleed,” his reflections on his younger self — “my sensibility was darker when I was a younger person,” — and his thoughts on Donald Trump: “just nuts.” Lux spoke to a crowd of less than 50, with a comfortable and open air, drawing chuckles as readily as offering insight.

Later in the evening, Poetry Center Director Ellen Doré Watson welcomed a crowd of around one hundred Smith students and members of the Northampton community to Weinstein Auditorium. After Watson’s reverential introduction, Lux assumed the podium and began by acknowledging his Northampton roots.

“Home is where your dead are buried,” Lux said, attributing the quote to Crazy Horse, as he explained that both of his parents lived and died in Northampton.

Lux’s first poem of the evening, “Haystack of Needles” paid homage to his childhood on a dairy farm outside of Northampton. In addition, the poet said that after decades of viewing autobiographical work with suspicion, his upcoming book, “To the Left of Time,” contains more personal history than any other publication. While Lux’s earlier work is characterized by a wry, sarcastic edge, Lux categorizes his latest collection as “poems of praise and gratitude.” Of the sixteen poems Lux read, all but the first began with the “Ode to…”: “Ode to the Joyful Ones,” “Ode to the Fire Hydrant,” “Ode to the Fat Child Who Went First onto the Thin Ice.”

Lux’s selections were varied and uplifting, infused with humor and the energy of his bold and inflective voice and punctuated by animated gestures. The sum of the evening was an intimate hour spent with a gifted, witty poet quick to engage and charm. “Poets,” Lux proclaimed, “are working stiffs like everybody else.”
Thomas Lux’s latest book will be released in Spring 2016.

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