(An International Journal of Poetry)
Volume-1 december-2011 Number-2
A Review of John Leax's Country Labor
by Prof. Matt McCarter
Zondervan Publishing 1991
Pages 93, Price- US$ 6.50
John Leax was professor of English and poet in residence at Houghton College in Houghton, New York, until his retirement in 2009. Leax is a widely published author of many works of poetry, fiction, and non-fiction. In 1992, Leax published Country Labors, Poems for All Seasons with Zondervan Publications. This work is significant because of Leax’s mediations on faith and nature.
The poems in this collection are short and simple; however, this does not take away from the work. Leax has a real talent for using an economy of language in his work. His poetry is deeply rooted in nature and its role in everyday life. As nature moves in rhythm or cycles, Leax shows us that human life has rhythms and cycles as well. Sometimes his work seems to parallel The Book of Ecclesiastes. For Leax, there is a great joy in nature and the wonders and joy that he finds in nature point to God the Creator.
It is likely that Leax writes about nature because of his deep relationship with his environment. He is no city dweller who writes about the merits of rustic living. Leax lives in the country and cultivates the garden in his personal life as well as in his art. Many of the poems in this selection deal with life, death, nature, love, and family. He shows us joys and hard work that comes from living in the country and the deep spiritual aspect of communing with God through participation in God's created order.
My favorite line of poetry in the book is in the poem, “Here,” where Leax writes “and we, bound flesh to flesh, learn in brokenness the changes love works in fertile soul.” In this line, Leah illustrates his belief in how nature reflects what God can do in the soil of the hearts of men. Just as God continually works and sustains nature and brings forth the fruit of the earth, He also continually works to bring forth the fruit from our hearts. As nature depends upon God so we, too, must depend upon Him and His mercy.
As a writer, I also enjoyed how Leax shares with his readers the fear that comes with writing poetry. He illustrates how the author bears all when he allows others to read what comes from the author’s heart and mind. In “Writing Shack,” Leax describes the old camper where he often writes. It is here in this place that Leah claims “the small peace broken words can make.” Leax illustrates how writing is a humbling activity in which we try to convey our thoughts, ideas, and feelings amidst our brokenness. It is a way in which man is able to mirror the Creator himself – the author of the world around – who takes great pleasure in his creative expressions.
“Prayer” is another poem, which shows the value and inherent worth of God's creation. In the poem, Leax prays that nature will do the tasks for which it was created and it will bring light to the earth. The poem ends with these words: “Let what is done here in the solitude of need be done well, be done for the good of the earth. And the good of one on whom the earth depends.” This is yet another example of Leax’d profound simplicity. While Leax’s poetry is simple, there is something beautiful in his simplicity. It is a simplicity that is like nature itself.