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Gerry LaFemina

Gerry LaFemina

Gerry LaFemina was a student of Thomas Lux at Sarah Lawrence College from 1986 to 1990. Gerry is the author of numerous books of poetry, prose poetry and criticism, including the recent textbook Composing Poetry: A Guide to Writing Poems and Thinking Lyrically and the forthcoming collection The Story of Ash (2017, Anhinga Press).

Thomas (Not The Broken-Mouthed) Lux

As he was my first poetry teacher, Thomas Lux's voice and his rules are often in my head. Those of us who studied with him know Lux was a man of rules. "No brand names in poems. Companies pay money to advertise." When I started a poem with an epigraph from "Celluloid Heroes" by the Kinks, he said, "Ray Davies may have written some good songs, Ger, but it's not poetry. No quotes from pop songs." Both are rules I've broken in the last 30 years although I learned the importance of rules from Tom and live by (and teach) my own rules when working on poems.

Lux knew, and respected, that I was willful. His biggest pet peeve in terms of my own work was not pop cultural references or the occasional product placement, but my name: Gerry. Short for Gerard. "Gerard is the name of a great poet," he'd remind me, regarding Hopkins. "It's the name your mother gave you." He, it should be pointed out, was always Thomas in public appearances and publications. "Don't call me Tom on the poster," he said to me more than once. "Name me a poet," he challenged, "that went by a shortened name." For months I struggled with this, going over poets with him till I settled on one he couldn't argue: his good friend, Bill Knott. Still, throughout our 30-year relationship he remained one of the few people who regularly called me Gerard.

Thomas The Broken-Mouthed

A sack on his back, his burlap shirt flapping in a devil's wind,
Thomas the Broken-Mouthed
walks up and down
the bad land, and amidst the bad believers,
he was born in, and among.
He walks up and down, his big wooden stick striking
the road just ahead of the two still
unsettled puffs of dust
his bare feet raise. Thomas the Broken-Mouthed—called thus
for his lies, say some,
called thus for other reasons, some others say.
In each village two or three fall behind him—disaffected vendors
of drowsy syrups, stiff-fingered cutpurses, sour
camel drivers, well poisoners, and children (milky-skinned,
pockmarked), children of the rich,
of prelates, pushing before them
wooden-wheeled barrows of grain
to bake into bread
to eat on the march. Thomas the Broken-Mouthed has a mission,
within which is a vision,
within which
is a tiny black fire. Who will pile the drought-dried straw on this fire,
who will be the naphtha resin,
who will follow the fire,
who will be the sparks with fiery wings for me? asks
Thomas the Broken-Mouthed,
standing on a tree stump that reveals
one hundred rings, one hundred years
that the books now call The Last One Hundred Years.




from The Street of Clocks, Houghton Mifflin Company, 2001


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