Lead into Gold: Review of John Leax’s “Tabloid News”

The words “tabloid” and “poetry” don’t usually go together. That’s the genius behind this collection of poems inspired by actual tabloid-news headlines. You won’t believe them, but in a good way.

Tabloid News

The poet John Leax takes the yoked impulses of “desire and fear” (as he explains in the preface), tapping into not only the hyperbole of contemporary tabloids but also the deeper roots of carnival freak shows and American racism. That brew packs quite a punch.

The stand-out poem among these fourteen, in my opinion, is “Meet the Amazing Half Man Half Pig,” which takes a simple idea of impossible hybridization to its (theo)logical conclusions.

He wonders,
Am I the farmer or the farmed? (37)

This poem heads in surprising directions, both ontological and culinary, through an inter-species “cross” that adds new weight to that word.

The whole collection reminds me (admittedly tangentially) of Annie Dillard’s volume of “found poems,” Mornings Like This (New York: HarperCollins, 1995). Dillard has harvested suggestive words and phrases from a loose miscellany of used-book-store leftovers, reconfiguring them into thought-provoking and touching poems. As she writes, commandeering language from an old book about painting:

You can do anything you want to do. What is rare
Is this actual wanting to do a specific thing. (21)

That’s advice she herself takes in her writing — and Leax, too. His collection takes inspiration from quoting the tabloids’ headlines only, whereas Dillard’s every line is pieced together from raw material extracted from her sources. But they both have the touch of alchemy, turning lead into gold.

Considered in this review: John Leax, Tabloid News: Poems (La Porte, Ind.: WordFarm, 2005).

Many thanks to WordFarm for a review copy of this volume.

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