Love it Hard: Thomas Lux on Poetry

Thomas Lux
BY Jeanne Morris

THOMAS LUX‘s latest collection is God Particles (Houghton Mifflin, 2008). Other titles include New and Selected Poems: 1975-1995, a finalist for the Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize, and Split Horizon, winner of the Kingsley-Tufts Poetry Award. He taught for twenty-seven years on the writing faculty and as Director of the MFA Program in Poetry at Sarah Lawrence College, and has also taught at Emerson College, Warren Wilson’s MFA Program for Writers, and other universities. A finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Award in Poetry and recipient of three NEA grants and a Guggenheim Fellowship, he holds the Bourne Chair in Poetry and directs the McEver Visiting Writers Program at Georgia Tech in Atlanta.

“The most important elements in making a poem are diligence, the craft, imagination, passion, and you need to be a little nuts. Read everything, dig in for the long haul, work on your stamina, love poetry, love it hard.”
— Thomas Lux

What is your sense of the contemporary American poetry scene?

Burgeoning, chaotic, many, many good poets, a growing cultural profile, a healthy, squawking, boisterous, fractious, inclusive, tradition and (true) innovation marrying or colliding. It’s a good time for poets and poetry in our culture and the only people who can fuck it up are poets.

What is it like for a poet to teach at a school like the Georgia Institute of Technology?

Georgia Tech is best known for engineering and the sciences but it’s an all-around world class university, both in research and teaching. I teach in Ivan Allen College, which is Tech’s liberal arts college, in a department called Literature, Communication, and Culture. A relatively new major, called STAC (Science, Technology and Culture) is one of the fastest growing majors on campus.

What is your writing routine like?

I don’t really have a routine. Writing is 80% reading so I read a great deal. I tend to work on poems in batches (that way if I get stuck on one I move on to the next). I do most of my writing over the summers and during breaks from teaching. I write doggedly, 15-20 drafts. I’m not prolific but I’m pretty steady: each slim volume takes about four years to write.

Thomas Lux
(2009 Palm Beach Poetry Festival)
BY Molly Sutton Kiefer

You once gave a reading where you read from Hart Crane’s “The Bridge.” Did his work influence your writing?

Sure, he influenced my work. Every poet you love, and even some you hate, influence your work. I love the texture, the intensity of his emotions and music, and his crazy, crazy heart.

What other writers influenced you?

About 500, too many to name and even if I did I’d leave somebody out.

You’ve said elsewhere that poets should “balance originality and accessibility” — could you please comment further on that?

Billy Collins says he prefers the word “hospitable” rather than accessible. I think I do too. Obscure or “difficult” poems are often neither. They are merely arbitrary. Quite often arbitrariness emitting from a quite brilliant mind, but arbitrary all the same. There’s plenty of room for strangeness, mystery, originality, wildness, etc. in poems that also invite the reader into the human and alive center about which the poem circles.

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