Monday, March 28, 2016



Why does poetry have to be so damn personal
all of the time? Why can’t I write a poem called
“Surveilling The Underworld” about a dead boy
who walks the banks of the River Styx looking
for his lost dog, a man holding his dead wife’s
dress in his arms, four men in a floating raft
adrift for three days after their merchant ship
was sunk by a German U-boat? Why not write
a poem about devotion, a man’s obsession with
stiletto heels, a woman’s loyalty to a hair-dresser,
the right shade of lipstick, a child’s fear of God
and nightly prayers? An addict’s choice of jail
over a twelve step program, the only place they
can get clean? Darlings, everyone has that one
piece of clothing they will never throw away,
that one book they continually read every ten
years. Some people are as committed to pain
as others are to happiness.  If someone were
to ask me what I am devoted to, I would say
the body. It is the one thing that won’t let go
of me. Sorry, I am being personal again when
really I wanted to write something only for you,
my faithful reader, who I still believe in, who
puts up with my many asides and silly detours,
who assumes these lines are leading to a place,
if only I knew where, of understanding, which
is all anyone wants, really, a little understanding
to form allegiances to, and perhaps build upon,
despite solid dedications to lovers who worship
or neglect us, to our jobs stealing time better
spent with family and friends, our adherence
to a particular brand of cologne or soda-pop.
Our fondness for first editions, or vintage
pornography, or fly-fishing. Our admiration
for a major league sports team, or morning
donut with our coffee. Devotion is the coin
of the realm and the currency of the heart.
Everything else just pays the balance owing.

By Chris Banks

Saturday, February 6, 2016

White Mansion

White Mansion

A confederacy of suicides. Borowski died 
breathing gas, head in an oven, twelve years
before Plath did the same trick. Paul Celan
drowned himself. John Berryman jumped
from a bridge. Pavese downed a handful of
barbituates in a hotel room. Ann Sexton
poured herself a vodka martini, and started
her car in a closed garage. Brautigan and
Mayakovsky died of self-inflicted gunshot
wounds. On and on it goes, a pageant of
death and despair, anxiety and suffering.
The mind can be like the wind, invisible
and everywhere, or it can be a goldfish,
a prize for some child who tossed a ball
into a small round bowl. Something to be
left upon a shelf and forgotten. Vanity
and obstinateness make for great poems
but few friends. When the end came for
them, the silence must have felt like one
last round of applause. I often wonder
if it was poetry, learning the vocabulary 
of what it means to be truly sentient, that
led to their suffering, or was it the thing
that kept them alive all those years before
they loaded the gun, or flicked on the gas,
or strolled towards the bridge. Lovers
abandon us. Damage is done. The work
always more than we are willing to give.
I want to smuggle some kindnesses into
these rooms of sorrows. Turn the pages
on these dead ones. Think about the girl
just sixteen, discovering her own poetry,
writing in a journal. There are birds and
clouds and a large white mansion sitting
atop a hill. She smiles unlocking the gates.

By Chris Banks

Thursday, January 7, 2016

All Night Animated

My friend Dave Okum animated this little video of my poem "All Night Arcade" which will be the title of my next book. Hope you enjoy it!

Monday, December 14, 2015



I feel like I’m walking across a thin glass bridge
and everyone moving past me
carry sledge-hammers

I feel like some trapped child
is wailing inside a sound-proof room
between my stomach and my lungs

It is 1974 again—

I have forgotten my address,
and the day camp has left me to go swimming
so I wander the school parking lot alone 

I imagine this is what it feels like to be dead

Somebody comes back for me 45 minutes later
but by then I have tasted it

The dread of loneliness
and it is too late

The darkness standing sentinel
at the edges of the tree’s shadows
begins to smile—

Show its teeth.

 By Chris Banks

Monday, September 15, 2014

On Depression

My father told me a story about when he was a young policeman working in Milton, ON. He was called to the scene of a suicide. A veteran of the First World War had stood in the middle of night saluting on railroad tracks letting a train run him down. It is a harrowing image, one that stills haunts me.

            As a young person, I found it hard to believe anyone could be in that much pain, or feel so abused by life’s ups and downs, he or she would would choose to end it in such a dramatic fashion.

            Then I became a teenager and the first signs of depression began to manifest themselves in my own life. I remember being bullied in grade 7 and 8 to the point I began to stammer in front of my peers. I was kicked and punched daily, had my property stolen, every conceivable obscenity flung at me. The worst was when the young bully wiped his nose on my shirt. His mother was a teacher at my school so I felt no one would listen to me, and therefore I was on my own.

Such taunting drove me deep inside myself where I cultivated inner resources of the imagination which would serve me later on in life when I actually decided to become a poet, but it also made me deeply distrustful of my surroundings.

At the time, I did not think of myself as depressed. Just a victim of moving to a small Northern town where few kids liked me. It was later in my twenties as an undergrad that I suffered my first major depressive episode as an adult. I remember having suicidal thoughts for the first time. I could not sleep or eat. I lost ten pounds. I recovered slowly over a few years, but I eventually graduated with honours and moved to Montreal where my mental health stabilized.   

Since that time, I have suffered at least three personal “doozies” as Jim Harrison once said of his own depressive episodes, the last one persisting for three years and only now am I starting to feel better. Depression is a hard thing to talk about not simply because of the shame or feelings of personal weakness it engenders, but because of the fear it might actually come back. Something about invoking one’s demons. Here be monsters.

 If writing is elation, intoxication, depression is its opposite. Suffocation. A feeling like there is a slow leak, and all the air is leaving the world. It is also crippling exhaustion, panic and anxiety, which make it painful, especially for loved ones, to interact with the depressed person.

I am not entirely sure of the relationship between depression, and the art of poetry except to say for me it is profound. David Biespiel has recently written,

“The poet’s journey involves a series of transformations because to write a poem is, above all to change your life. And, no less important, to change someone else’s life. A poem is an offering. A poem is a common wealth. Because each poem contains insight, the wisdom you reveal in your poems can renew the community. When you present your poems to the world, you are saying to readers that you have discovered something. You are saying that you are ready to participate in the shared human experience…"

For the depressive who feels most often apart from the world and other people, stuck on invisible railroad tracks with their neuroses bearing down on them, it is vitally important to understand experience is malleable. A poem is transformative. It offers a way to connect and share with other human beings when no other way seems possible.

Why I have depression—bad genes, a nasty drug my mother took when she was pregnant with me, childhood trauma—hardly seems important. The truth is chronic major depression has been a constant in my adult life ruining my relationships with people I care most about, and no amount of exercise, medications or therapy has made it go away for good. That poetry and the imagination can help me forget this burden awhile, or even at times to feel like a whole person is a spiritual fact. It allows me to keep going.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

David Gorin On Negative Criticism

In the Boston Review, David Gorin in his essay "Negative Review: The Claudius App" goes negative on critical take-downs suggesting they are no more honest or free of careerism than so-called positive reviews. Here is an excerpt:

"To my mind, the notion that negative reviews are a dialectical antidote to the vague praise and careerist back-patting often found in poetry reviews is founded on a mistake. There is no good reason to think that negative reviews are ipso facto any more honest, more intelligent, freer of strategy, instrumentality, or profit-motive than positive reviews. Negative is not the same as critical. The negative reviewer is shrewd enough to moneyball the marketplace: he understands that in an economy rife with praise-inflation, vitriol can code as honesty, and ridicule may seem refreshing because it is so rare. His operation risks devolving into spectacle. The idea that negative reviews should be more “honest” or “refreshing” than positive reviews is symptomatic of the fantasy that there might be a place where the dynamics of economy and careerism are suspended, and the voice of truth can pour forth undiluted by ulterior motives. The main problem with negative reviews is that they’re too similar to positive reviews. The poetry criticism I admire most spends less time praising or blaming—which often amounts to leveraging the reviewer’s cultural capital and verbal virtuosity to muscle readers into assimilating that reviewer’s taste—and more time describing and contextualizing with intelligence and gusto. Of course, no reviewer could ever remove his taste or politics from his descriptions; the very choice of an object for attention is a function of such things. But I think we’d all learn a lot more about what’s happening in poetry if reviewers leaned less heavily on overt statements of aesthetic judgment, positive or negative, and more on close analysis."

- David Gorin, "Negative Review: The Claudius App"

Friday, October 11, 2013

Upcoming Fall Readings

        Thanksgiving is already upon us! I have a few readings coming up over the next week. 

         I will be reading Wed. Oct. 16,  7:30 pm, at the Landon Branch of the London Public Library, 167 Wortley Rd as part of the Poetry London Reading Series

         The following day Thurs. Oct. 17, I am heading to Hamilton to give readings from 4:40-5:30 pm at Redeemer University College  and later that night 7:30-9:00 pm at Bryan Prince Bookseller, 1060 King Street West for the Hamilton Poetry Society

         I will be reading poems from my last book Winter Cranes published by ECW Press as well as some new work. All are welcome.