Spotlight series #54 : Chris Banks

rob mclennan
4 min readOct 5, 2020

Curated by Canadian writer, editor and publisher rob mclennan, the “spotlight” series appears the first Monday of every month.


I have been writing poems for well over thirty years now. The first fourteen of those years my poems were terrible. I defended a book length collection of poems which was my Master’s thesis at Concordia and then promptly stopped writing for over a year. I believed I was a failure because I could not write to the level my professors, with tenderness and utmost care, demanded of me.

What I didn’t know then but know now is that poetry is as much failure as it is success. Those professors were simply setting the bar for what I would eventually reach. In terms of my poetics, I have been a meditational poet, a narrative poet, a poet whose written in syllabics, and a poet who now seems most happy when writing light surrealist verse that is full of surprises. That most of all appeals to me.

If you were to ask what is a poem ten years ago, it would be different than what I believe now and thank god! Poetry, like life, is constantly changing. What happens to a lyric poet when she runs out of childhood to exploit in her poems? She either quits or find the goods. This is what I believe. However, I will say this: a poem must enhance our lives in some way — spiritually, intellectually or emotionally — if it is indeed poetry. Call me romantic, or old-fashioned, but I cannot get past this sentiment and I hope I never will.


Ode To The Self Disappearing

Here be dragons. The god in the machine
has escaped and is roaming the theatre.
Tiny gizmos created in Chinese factories
help to alleviate boredom. Suicide by ennui
is not really a thing. Scientists have detected
patterns in radio signals from deep space.
The scissors are missing. MYSTERIES
in all caps gets you no closer to the truth.
Kids playing in a sprinkler are one example
of Spiritus Mundi. The bulbs you planted
last summer coming up in bloom is another.
I find you enchanting and would love to
sleep nose to nose with you. Things fall
apart, beautifully. A plant that last flowered
when wooly mammoths walked the Earth,
found buried in permafrost, gets a second
chance to die. Is not life grand? My inner
rough beast slouches towards bed-time.
Yeats was a genius, but a profoundly sad
person with no access to happy little pills.
My prescription needs refilling. Blue skies
and Abilify keep me going. The juke-box
is broken, so I hum a little Lucinda Williams
while getting the milk. Sailing to Byzantium
is a fight song for MFA programs. No one
calls collect any more. What is the boiling
point for possibilities? For lost potential?
I do not have the archeologist’s knack for
gluing together dead civilizations one little
piece at a time. The water tower is painted
with the words LOVE and HATE. An art
installation sitting above a thousand houses.
A public shrine to indifference. Buying up
dreams is a terrible real estate investment.
I would rather gamble money on this world,
no matter how ruined. The teller behind
shatter-proof glass hands back your change,
then forgets you. Without fear, try leaning
into that erasure. Once gone, make a wish.


It was easier as a kid with a bug-hunting net
and a little jar with holes in the lid capturing
iridescent grasshoppers and yellow bumblebees
but ever since I missed the lecture on reality,
I keep thinking it has something to do with
rhizomes or sequinned tube-tops or staying
inside your body for nearly a hundred years
if you are lucky. The photographs do not
really do it justice. All those family pictures
of sunsets and sullen grand-parents. What
about bioluminescent creatures constellating
like stars deep within the Marianas Trench?
What about the bird dive-bombing everyone
who gets too close to its nest? Easy to pull
things apart but so much harder to stitch
it all back together to see the big picture.
Let us break the fourth wall that exists
between ourselves and the ocean. Between
the interior of the car with its little heater
spitting out warmth and the blizzard outside.
I am not one for religion but I do know
you cannot 3-d print the soul. Scientists
say there are at least 36 alien civilizations
in the Milky Way alone which is already
fucked-up when you think I have trouble
distinguishing between what is more
important: ice-cream or the God particle?
I go for a jog managing to skirt the grass
and flowerbeds. I stay on the sidewalk yet
somehow contain multitudes of dreams.
No surgery will cure you of being human
so do not try to sit reality out. Get out
the lawn chairs and trapezes and silly string.
Cast your net wide knowing whatever
that buzzing is, deep in the honeysuckle
and clover, it might just sting you.

Chris Banks is a Canadian poet and author of five collections of poems, most recently Midlife Action Figure by ECW Press 2019. 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 for best first book of poetry in Canada. His poetry has appeared in The New Quarterly, Arc Magazine, The Antigonish Review, Event, The Malahat Review, Prism International, among other publications. He lives and writes in Waterloo, Ontario.