One Question Interview: Chris Banks

05Dec17

Chris Banks is the author of four collections of poems: Bonfires, The Cold Panes of Surfaces, Winter Cranes, and most recently The Cloud Versus Grand Unification Theory. His first full-length collection, Bonfires, was awarded the Jack Chalmers Award for poetry by the Canadian Authors’ Association in 2004. Bonfires was also a finalist for the Gerald Lampert Award. His poetry has appeared in the New Quarterly, Arc Magazine, the Antigonish Review, and the Malahat Review, among other publications.

I see conscious links in these poems between time and identity: both personal details and larger world events are linked to identity. It’s as though people are going up an escalator, fixed in a set of memories, but aware of the present. Some poems are about getting older. Is this process of getting through life more complex than ever? 

You cannot escape identity is what I have discovered in poetry. As much as I wanted The Cloud Versus Grand Unification Theory to be about the cognitive dissonance created by a world of thirteen year old Youtube stars, a giant replica of Noah’s Ark, genetically engineered Glofish, climate change, parallel universes, and on and on, it all boomerangs back to how I feel about these topics. No matter how much wisdom I can squeeze out of a poem, I still have to deal with myself at some point.

cloud

It’s hard to talk about identity for me as I am extremely introverted and suffer from dual disorders: major depression and alcoholism which I am recovering from. To say this makes my life challenging is an understatement. I have been accused of being too narrative, too honest in the past, not formal enough, which is hilarious when you think many poems in my last collection were written in perfect syllabics. However, I really wanted to try something different with this new book.

In the poem “Confessionalism”, for instance, I tell a myriad of rapid-fire lies and then one or two sincere things. I hint at this strategy in the the collection’s title poem when I say “I tell elaborate lies to ascertain the truth”. If the zeitgeist is a kind of information over-load, a newsfeed anarchy, then it seems to me this is only way to get that flavour into your poetry.

Because I am a depressive, my brain tells me the world is in bad shape. It is also easy to retreat into nostalgia, to revisit those ghost places which haunt your personal mythlogy, as it reminds you that life was much simpler at one time, or you felt a more Oceanic connection to the world as a child, the world before addiction or depression, but nostalgia itself will not save you. Only connections to living people will.

Identity is somewhat fractured in my new book as I stack my poems with lost things, replicas, viral videos, road rage, but I am still somewhere in the frame. I have a poem entitled “Selfie with Ten Thousand Things” which seems like an apt metaphor for the book. How much awkward bundling of images can I produce to replicate how we take in information without losing myself in the process?  Life may have become more complex but what I really want from poetry, those underpinnings, have stayed the same. “That sweetness in you starts talking to /  a sweetness in me. We infect each other.”     

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