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A Cup of Blood
Many of us who follow the poetry of John Leax were surprised by the publication of Tabloid News (WordFarm, 2006), and with good reason. In his previous three collections (Reaching into Silence, Shaw, 1974; The Task of Adam, Zondervan, 1985; and Country Labors, Zondervan, 1991), Leax had established what you might call the boundaries of his work. Whenever the word "I" or "me" appeared in a poem, readers could assume that Leax referred to himself, more or less, as much as one might when trying to render personal experience into verse. His poems appeared to be truthful accounts of his life as a husband, father, gardener, fisherman, woodsman, and Christian college professor; they reflected his interests in the family, the environment, and spirituality. But then, seemingly out of nowhere, came Tabloid News, a collection of poems based on the headlines of tabloid newspapers and bearing titles like "Meet the Amazing Half Man Half Pig," "I Want to Have a Space Alien's Baby," and "Bizarre Creature Spotted in Louisiana Bayou." For the first time in his poetry, "true-to-life" yielded to "truth-of-the-imagination"; in fact, it more than yielded, it got abducted by a ufo piloted by Leax himself, who appeared to be having a lot of fun flying around in his new spaceship. If the first question to ask about Tabloid News is, "Where did that come from?" the next logical question must be, "What will he come up with next?"
In Recluse Freedom: Poems 1990-2010, Leax provides answers to both of these questions. Spanning twenty years, the collection shows us that long before Leax dropped the personal for the persona, he was already trying new things with his verse. The book's first section, "Writing Home: 1990-2002," includes poems on family life, a frequent subject for Leax, but written in modified blank verse (sometime four beats, sometimes five). In adopting this form, Leax speaks in a more narrative voice than in much of his previous work. "Homecoming" tells of events that permanently altered ...