Friday, July 16, 2010

Honest, Vivid, and Worth It: Lea Banks and Her Poetry, ALL OF ME

Word arrived this week that Lea Banks is stepping down from her three years of labor with the Shelburne Falls (MA) poetry series, Collected Poets -- and although I'm sure the series folks will miss her, it's a good thing too, because it's sure to mean more poems from Banks herself.

Her collection ALL OF ME proves that writing the wild side of life can be provocative on multiple levels: How do we get ourselves into the turmoil of sexuality, romance, breakups, heartbreak, and those unforgettable laughter-filled moments that come between kisses? Banks declares she's "not the goddess or goodness / I wish to be" as she inks her longings, lusts, and loves. If only we knew, at age 16 or 20, that heartbreak is the rototiller of the garden that will later bring lush blossoms and fruit!  In "St. George's Waltz," Banks writes:
 ... She was a tavern, a dance
hall of heartbeats spun around
his loving. A girl grown dizzy
with desire a loss, her limits
an abrasion of incapacity.

She knocks about in sweaty sleep.
Feverish with wakefulness,
she tracks his city stones of night.
Dragging the streets wailing
awake the strike of her heart.

In a distinct body, an ambulance of grief.
Sometimes Banks reveals that these griefs and losses abruptly let go, after so much pain. In "Snow Angel," a short pair of stanzas perfectly tuned, she says of making those arm/leg swirls in the white landscape, "I think of you sometimes / as I make them. / I'm faring quite well." And the hidden "farewell" in the verse has lost its freight of loss and teases us instead with recovery.

When Banks dips into "God" and "god," her taste for whimsy keeps the quest light-hearted and vivid. She declares in "Stillness Like This,"
I am a hymn of birds released,
clench-free hands of flickering
flight; the very sweetest note.
And rolling through a tumble with a young man, she brings the poem back to the "thrill of possibility. / God's fierce whimsy / explodes in the air above us."

The most powerful poem in the 30-page collection is the title piece, "All of Me," salted with lines from Ovid's Metamorphoses in which the nymph Daphne, daughter of the river, has "closets weeping with clothes / never worn," and the body can sicken with envy, revenge, shame, craving. To fly into love has its costs, but who wants to be turned into a tree instead, rooted, unable to fly again? Banks says, "It's a spontaneous belief in sadness: / the charred life we live." There's the phrase that haunts me, that charred, rather than charmed, life -- the constant effort to confront the ashes, recall the glory of the fire, and say it was worth the burning.

It's rare that the delights and costs of passion are spelled out as vividly as they are in this collection. In one of the last pieces, "It Was Nothing," reminding me of the snapping string in performances of "The Cherry Orchard," Banks demonstrates that our losses have as much meaning as our loves: "like the garden of Eden after the gate had closed."

Copies of ALL OF ME can be ordered directly from Banks; visit her web site,


Tim Mayo said...

This an excellent review of an excellent collection.

Thank you,
Tim Mayo

Bob Hoeppner said...

Congratulations to Lea. "the charred life we live" - I always approve of taking a cliché and twisting it for something fresh.

Beth Kanell said...

By the way, taste a bit of Tim Mayo's book in the July 22 post ...