The Madhouse is at the altar this week, as we at Raw Dog Screaming Press are happy to announce that we've signed poets, Jim and Janice Leach, for their collaborative poetry collection, Till Death: The Horrors and Happy Afters of a Long Relationship. This collection is set to debut in mid-2016 and it details the ups and downs of a 32-year marriage as these poets talk fear, romance, and sex with no boundaries, limits, or filter.
Want more? Here's a interview that I did with Jim and Janice to give you a sneak peak into their process, their influences, and how their manuscript came to be.
1. What is the title of your collection and how did you come up with the name?
Jan: “Til Death” is that super creepy line from traditional marriage vows that brings up mortality right in the middle of a wedding celebration, like it’s the best possible outcome for a relationship. “The Horrors and Happy Afters” part is our attempt to be honest about what comes before that “blessed” conclusion. Relationships are not easy or fun all the time. We’ve survived some hellish times together, some that have come our way and some that we’ve caused.
Jim: Our poems explore the “Happy Afters,” not the “Happily Ever Afters” because the bad days just keep coming (chuckle). There should almost be a PG-13 sticker on this book. It’s not a pastel fairy tale. There are some really dark themes and let’s say “coarse language.” But that’s what a marriage is like.
Jan: It’s not for kids.
Jim: Oh what sweet irony there. Janice and I were married when we were 19, when we were kids. We had no idea what the FUCK we were getting ourselves into. To me the phrase “‘Til Death” also relates to something I realized only recently. Nothing, absolutely nothing in my life has consumed more attention and work than this marriage. Our relationship is quite literally, my magnum opus, my life’s great work.
Jan: Awww. Me too.
2. What was the inspiration for your collection overall?
Jim: One of the inspirations, for me at least, is the album “Shoot Out the Lights” by Richard and Linda Thompson. The songs alternate between the two songwriters, each one sharing about how hard it is to live with the other person. But the very last song on the disc is “Wall of Death,” a song they sing together in tight harmony.
Jan: You know what a “Wall of Death” is, right? It’s that caged motorcycle sideshow stunt, where the driver steers the bike and the rider stands up on the seat, balancing while they ride around and around. It’s showy and thrilling because it’s dangerous!
Jim: The point of the song -- and the record, I think -- is that it is incredibly difficult to live with another person for an extended period of time, but despite those perils, the thrills are worth the risks. It’s the most interesting thing you can imagine doing with your life, so you choose to ride on the wall of death together. The irony is that was the last record they made together before their divorce.
Jan: “Wall of Death” was actually our theme song for a while.
Jim: From the very beginning, we’ve had one song or another that sort of sums up how our relationship is going. The first one, I think, was “Stay with Me” by Genesis, back before they sucked.
Jan: You’re so judgey.
Jim: For a good chunk of time it was “In Spite of Ourselves,” a duet by John Prine and Iris DeMent. “Have You Seen the Stars Tonight?” by the Jefferson Airplane...What are other ones, dear?
Jan: Most recently it was Muse’s “Madness” because holy fuck, our lives were pure madness at that point. And that’s a really cool song too because it brings out the seductive side of madness. Who would want to walk away from that excitement? But we also started this collection around our anniversary last year, like wouldn’t it be cool to collect 32 poems about us--
Jim:-- One for every year--
Jan: --And it grew from there. At first the number seemed too big, but then, it was too small. We had too much to say.
Jan: Our home decorations have rather an Addams family vibe. A morbid-chic, vampire-whorehouse / mortician-hoarder thang.
3. How long have you been writing poetry? What is your background with it in terms of education, experience, etc.
Jan: I’ve written poetry all my life. There’s juvenalia in the file cabinet that probably should be shredded, but given my filing system, no one is in danger of uncovering it. I wrote the first poems that I am still pleased with as an undergraduate at the University of Michigan.
Jim: Yeah, Janice was always the poet in our relationship. I always felt like the amateur--
Jan:-- the nubile apprentice--
Jim: So to speak, yes. I also took poetry writing classes at University of Michigan, but I always considered myself the playwright of the team.
Jan: Every marriage needs a playwright, right?
Jim: At least to script the arguments. But seriously, Janice won an award for her poetry. An Undergraduate Hopwood Award which was a moderately big deal, right?
Jan: Aww, you remember! The award was a confidence booster for sure. What’s also funny though was the number of poems we were both able to pull from the archives-- so secretly Jim’s been a poet all along too.
Jim: We were both English majors, and poetry has just been part of what we do. Rather frequently, when we have folks over for drinks, there’s a point late in the evening when everybody starts quoting their favorite poems, like a nerd rap battle.
4. Where have you previously published your poetry?
Jim: You really want that sad litany of dead literary magazines?
Jan: We could just say “We’ve published in select venues.” (grin) Seriously though, we’ve had poetry published in cool places like Grimcorps, Necrotic Tissue, Quick Shivers, Christianity and Literature, Daughters of Sarah, the Old West Side News, and the Huron River Review... Recently, Jim had his poem “Flora and Fauna” accepted in the HWA Poetry Showcase, so that’s cool.
Jim: I’m absurdly proud of that poem. It’s about werewolves in spring… sort of.
Jan: But this isn’t technically the first poetry “work” we’ve co-written. (smirk)
Jim: Egad, you don’t really want to bring that up...
Jan: When Jim was working at a photocopy shop back when we were first married, we made a xeroxed chapbook which we passed off as cheap Christmas gifts.
Jim: Let’s just say that’s a real collector’s item.
5. Who are your influences?
Jan: I enjoy poets who explore the domestic realm, among other topics. Long time favorites of mine include Jane Kenyon and Molly Peacock as well as Margaret Avison and Edna St Vincent Millay.
Jim: I know the poets I like reading; I don’t know exactly how they’ve influenced me. Baudelaire and William Burroughs. Carolyn Forché and Sylvia Plath, Jim Daniels and David Budbill, Wendell Berry and John Donne. Paul Celan and Rilke. Oh, and Eminem and Stevie Wonder. And Ginsberg and Patti Smith.
6. What is your writing process like?
Jan: Well, we did something different with this collection.
Jim: That’s right. We approached it from the beginning knowing the pieces would have to fit together, that it would be a whole work
Jan: So we gave each other assignments and topics as well as dares and deadlines. We exchanged poems at the early draft stage, and we revised each other’s work far more than we have done previously. We’ve written together for years. We run two websites together and most of that writing is collaborative. But’s that’s nonfiction. Poetry is a different animal however.
Jim: I tend to be more formal, or at least formally-flavored. But Janice has a more free spirit (grin).
Jan: The poems that resulted are a nifty blend of our styles and preoccupations.
Jim: Writing this book has changed my writing process, probably permanently.
7. What are you most excited about with this collection in particular, i.e. what was shocking or surprising to you while you were writing it?
Jan: Purposefully writing “not nice poems” was incredibly liberating for me. We made a pact to go deep and be candid even about the most painful topics. The context of this collection gave me permission to delve into my dark side, into our dark side.
Jim: Exactly, sort of like good therapy. Writing this book was a relatively safe playground for us to work through some pretty dark shit.
Jan: But you’re generally more comfortable with darker themes.
Jim: That’s true, and what was surprising to me was how much tenderness and love kept popping up in the work. I mean, none of it is going on a Valentine’s Day card… but there’s a lot of romance.
Jan: And sex.
Jim: Boy howdy is there sex!
Jan: But that’s not shocking. You don’t stay married for 33 years just to fight.
Stalk the Authors:
Jim’s Instagram: @GrimGnome13
Jim’s Pinterest: Cosmognome
Jim’s website: http://jamesfrederickleach.com
Jim’s facebook: https://www.facebook.com/jim.leach
Janice Leach is a master gardener and professional pie baker who credits her 1st grade teacher with kindling her love of writing. She and her tinker soulmate live in Ann Arbor and raise a rollicking kitchen garden near a 100 year old lilac. She edits Quick Shivers, an annual anthology of 100 word stories based on nightmares for Cosmonomic Multimedia and is a contributing editor to dailynightmare.com and 20minutegarden.com.
Janice’s Twitter: @JanArborJan’s Pinterest: janarbor
Jan’s facebook: https://www.facebook.com/janice.s.leach