Tom Lux’s Audience

Saturday, February 18, 2017

As many poets born between 1940 and 1955 have noticed, the number of people writing poetry in the United States has increased enormously since they first started publishing their writing. In the late 1960s, the protests against the Vietnam War included poetry as a popular part of the counter-culture’s resistance. Only a small proportion of those young poets, however, were still writing in the late 1970s. In contrast, there are perhaps as many as 40,000 people who currently regard poetry as their primary means of creative cultural work; and while it is frequently claimed that the only people who read poetry are those who write it, that simply is not the case. Tom Lux, for instance, was a poet who actually collected royalties from his book sales, and no poet reaches that point of popularity without attracting the attention of serious readers.

For poets who were born after 1960 or 1985, however, the abundance of poets in the United States has a drawback, in that what might be regarded as a surplus of talent makes the crescent edge of older poets harder to detect and calibrate. Compounding this diffusion, I find this pair of generations all too often ends up depending too much on a narrow cluster of initial friends within the poetry world to guide their reading. Or at least that’s the only explanation I can come up with when I consider what I have found in the wake of learning about Tom Lux’s death. Karina Borowicz, for instance, has a blog entry (dated September 23, 2015) in which she describes a reading by Lux when he was on tour promoting his most recent collection, To the Left of Time. Borowiz leads off her commentary by saying that “I went to see Thomas Lux read the other night at Smith College. I haven’t read much Lux before and I don’t know much about him, so I didn’t know what to expect.” Her appreciative commentary after the reading sums up fairly well the effect that Tom Lux’s poetry had on thousands of people, and I would assume that she has passed on her discovery of Lux’s vital imagination to her friends.

It does seem odd to me that a mid-life poet whose poetics fall within a fairly familiar terrain would not have read much Lux. It seems as odd, in fact, as it would be if I ran into a mainstream musician who said she or he didn’t know much about Ry Cooder. I would give that person a quizzical look. “Surely, you’re joking?”

Nevertheless, Borowicz herself is a poet worth paying attention to. In the process of getting her poems published in over three dozen well known poetry magazines, she has won several distinctive prizes and citations. You can find her poem “September Tomatoes” at the Poetry Foundation website as well as other work at

Her blog entry on Tom Lux’s reading is at: