The poetry of John Leax should claim serious Christian attention. His verse, which has appeared in many periodicals and issued in four collections (A Proper Reticence , Finding the Word , Reaching Into Silence , and Shoring the Ruins ), is notable for its art. There is also distinction in its models and the doctrine it has absorbed. Its vision is complex.
This poetry is direct, but its directness goes beyond style: it suggests the poet’s basic attitude to his materials. A Leax poem is an utterance: it is something the poet might have said, something he did say. These utterances are often difficult—personally intense, or complicated.
The poetry is also intimately related to the lives behind it. Leax’s considerable craft is apparent, but it is not the point. What is essential is the growth of vision. Consider the poetry’s models and touchstones, for example.
An early model was Robert Bly. Behind him, and a far more pervasive influence, was the tradition of imagism, from which Leax derived the sharp visual image and juxtaposed statement of feeling that Bly also used. Leax’s earliest published lyrics turn on simple equivalences. They picture actual things, which are slightly heightened with imaginary detail.
This early style produced religious poem$ like “Easter Sunday, 1969” (A Proper Reticence), which narrates an afternoon walk and places the Christian mystery in a natural context of desire and action. In the freedom of the resurrection, death is something that can be rejected. The poem’s conclusion—“Tonight, I think I could die / and not be afraid”—is luminously adequate.
In later poems the affirmation came harder. Nature itself had become more ambiguous; it was still a symbol of grace, but it was moral ...1
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