While gothic literature isn’t my usual cup of tea, I enjoyed Janice and James Frederick Leach’s poetry about making room for the darkness in their marriage and in their family relationships, acknowledging its validity and its difficult but instructive lessons in unusual and courageous ways. It takes a lot of courage to resist the insistence that marriage be 100% functional, 100% loving, and 100% in the light, and that if any part of it isn’t so “wholesome” or high-functioning, that means there are problems that must be fixed.
I’ve never been much of a “romantic” in the stereotypical sense, so I liked the idea of presenting a very unconventional, almost satirical collection of poetry about love and marriage—complete with cover art that looks like a scene from of an animated Tim Burton movie, with tombstones and a couple that looks like a husband-and-wife Grim Reaper team.
The poems in ‘Til Death: Marriage Poems appear to be written by Janice and James individually; some are obvious who wrote them, and others I can’t tell. What this says to me is not that their marriage is successful because they act and think as a single unit, that in over a quarter century they have become two halves of the same being; what it says to me is that they are successful because they are two complete people on the same wavelength. Their mostly stream-of-consciousness writing styles blend just enough that their creative muse flows almost seamlessly between them.
That being said, one point the author of “me, you, here” demonstrates is that even in a long-term marriage, there are some areas that are off-limits to each other, and perhaps should remain that way. We don’t have to walk through every door in each other’s souls. Some things about us resist any of our attempts to bring them into the light, so, as the poet points out, encountering such waters in each other’s souls or psyches is not necessarily an invitation to swim in them. Not every part of us is loveable, and we may not even love each other with every part of ourselves—I like how this poem courageously admits that, without judgment or implying that it is wrong.
The authors are not hedonistic or amoral in their presentation of the interesting twists that their mutual fascination with the occult put on their Christian faith; they present both their light and their dark musings and fantasies all within the realm of their marriage, which is presented as encompassing only the two of them. They simply display their moral compass in unconventional ways, without being self-righteous or comparing themselves with anyone else.
They don't mention much of the world around them—such as the media or their communities—or make comparisons between themselves and other couples or their beliefs and anyone else’s; they also do not take jabs at more romantic conventions or at anyone’s mores or norms. Their poetry is all about their experience—raw, unedited, often seeming to be written as last thoughts at the end of a mundane or a challenging day, or as spontaneous mental wanderings while taking their kids on a family outing or preparing dinner or just after sex.
In addition to being a gothic writer, Janice is also very active in gardening, home crafts, and social-justice work. James is multi-talented as well, and maintains the Web site dailynightmare.com. I met Janice at the most recent meeting of the MPC interfaith group, where she generously gifted me with a review copy of 'Til Death. The timing was perfect for my post that would coincide with Valentine’s Day.
Image: "Angel & Rose still life" by Karla Joy Huber, 2007; colored pencil