Image Credit: Margarita Zueva
“I line each bone of my spine against the bed, press my hands, damp with anticipation, against the bed// and wonder how long it will take me to die,” the speaker says in Jennifer LeBlanc’s collection of poems, Descent.
Descent is a lush, gorgeous collection that delves into the Eleusinian Mysteries and the myth of Persephone and her own journey into the Underworld. The book takes a look at mother/daughter relationships, as well as romantic relationships via the lens of Persephone’s perspective.
In the poem, “Divine,” the speaker says: “Ask for the divine and I will hold up my palm, nothing to offer, waiting for a coin.” The coin is reference to a Greek funerary custom, where a coin would be placed in the mouth of the deceased, so that they could pay Charon, the ferryman, who guides the souls of the Dead over the rivers Styx and Acheron and into the underworld.
“Every autumn the ache returns, sweet cider snapping in my mouth /like a kiss and I want to be taken /back into his love. Am I wrong for it?” the speaker wonders. There’s a sense of travelling into the darkness, of a woman, aching for her lover, the God of the underworld. At the same time, Persephone’s story is about a woman who has been taken against her will. Tricked by the man who has brought her out of the sunlit world of her mother and into the world of the Dead. The myth of Persephone is not a romance; it’s a cautionary tale.
Descent is about womanhood—expectations, reality as well as family and personal history. Myth and modern life are intertwined, giving the source material a modern update. LeBlanc makes the old story new again, in smooth, precise verse that is equal parts honey and shadow.
Descent is a dark and lovely book, a decadent treat to read. LeBlanc’s craft is staggering—she uses traditional forms to draw her readers into the underworld, to see the beauty and the danger of falling for the wrong man as well as the sacrifices that women make. This is a book that haunts the reader, long after they finish reading. Descent is available via Finishing Line Press.