Sunday, August 27, 2017

The Cloud Versus Grand Unification Theory - Chris Banks (ECW Press/a misFit book)

Today's book of poetry:
The Cloud Versus Grand Unification Theory.  
Chris Banks.  ECW Press.  a misFit book.  Toronto, Ontario.  2017.

Cloud Versus Grand Unification Theory, The by Chris Banks, ECW Press

Milo, our head tech, went to the stacks this morning and brought out Chris Banks' Anstruther Press chapbook Invaders (2015).  Today's book of poetry remembered Invaders as a tight and muscular little celebration.  With The Cloud Versus Grand Unification Theory Banks moves into fully fledged killer poetry assassin territory.

602 blogs/reviews into this project and Today's book of poetry is still regularly amazed.  Re-discovering Chris Banks is a bit of poetry lottery win.  The Cloud Versus Grand Unification Theory may be the best book of poetry you read this year.

Banks applies a carpet-bombing theory of poetics, he builds line after line of incendiary verse, each as solid, dependable and explosive as it's predecessor.  The poems in this collection are constructed like those extraordinary Japanese temples where no nails or screws are used.  Instead the construction is held together with elaborate, almost invisible, joints that fit just so.

The Hundreds

Eight-tracks of Neil Diamond's Hot August Night are gone.
Cassettes lost. Don't look, but Betamax and VHS tapes
are no more. All around us, the old century, The Hundreds
as my daughter calls it, is vanishing. The K-car is gone.
Wood-panelled basements and macrame wall hangings.
Airbrushed vans, teen hitchhikers, Corvette summers.
Moon landings. Woodstocks. Live Aid. Lollapaloozas.
Henry Morgentaler and Ian Curtis are gone. Terry Fox
and Andy Kaufman. East Germany and Czechoslovakia.
The rotary phone is gone. The modem is gone. Even
intricately folded high-school notes, written in cursive
in April of 1986, no longer exist. The Khmer Rouge
and Nelson Mandela are gone. Kennedy and Brezhnev too.
Atari is gone. The arcades are gone. Pong. Pac-Man.
Donkey Kong. Transistor radios. Walkmans. Discmans.
Boomboxes. Ghetto blasters. Hi-fi stereo receivers.
Billie Holiday, Satchmo, John Lennon, Freddie Mercury.
Rock. New Wave. Punk. Hardcore. Grunge. Shoe-gaze.
I cannot tally it all, but still I keep trying like a man
poring over microfiche, not memories, hoping for a clue
or two that might tell a person how to live
with loss when already oceans are rising, the climate
is changing, the animals are leaving us, one species
at a time: Dusty seaside sparrow. Mexican grizzly bear.
Golden toad. The past seems more real than a world
where Greenland is melting, where people stare at phones
the way they once did at paintings. The Hundreds,
smelling of old money, sibling rivalry and white privilege
are not coming back, and it's time for time to settle up,
to explain what it was all about, before we too one day,
after breakfast, or a walk in the park, or a trip to the city,
find ourselves suddenly, and irrevocably, gone.


Chris Banks has mastered a particular school of the great riff.  He makes leaps where others might consider walking around.  The journey through one of Banks' missives might seem disjointed and uncertain but you are under the care of some masterful hands.  You might come sliding into home sideways, or muscling up to the dock with a big wake, but every inch of your navigation has been previously considered by the poet for you.

The Cloud Versus Grand Unification Theory may be a catalogue of human responses to an increasingly difficult and hostile world.  Banks expansive voice is elastic enough to embody contradiction and compromise without ever changing key.

Dusk Till Dawn

You imagine the moon filling a bedroom window
as the towering screen of a drive-in movie theatre
high above a winter field strewn with meltwater.
Soon cars prowl past the ticket booth's closed sign.
An unlighted snack bar hunched in snow and rain
gathers a crowd. The moth-stutter of faint images
flicker from a projector filled with stopped clocks.
Someone has already begun to lay aside his clothes
in a borrowed car. Someone's white bare shoulder
is sending a boy's desire up in flames, burning him.
Someone feels branded by delight. Even on a night
as cold, as ordinary as this evening, somewhere it is
the summer of 1985 and Back to the Future is playing.
Somewhere people stagger in between rows of cars,
drinking beer, laughing heartily, suspecting nobody
will ever grow old, or expire, or be forgotten again.
Many are wrong -- it is already tomorrow's music
leaking out of FM radios, speaker poles like crosses
marking the graves of teens who came before them,
until someone finds himself locked out of some car,
twenty years older with an adolescent girl long dead
in a car wreck. What happened two decades ago.
Someone wishes he could go back to another time
to loiter under a different moon, in another century,
but already there is a fight in the parking lot. Already
police are gathering at the entrance, waiting for dawn
to come, for people to finally get tired and go home,
while someone drunk yells Come on!, holds up his fists
unaware the invisible projectionist who is smoking
absentmindedly, dusting ashes off one last cigarette,
stares out his tiny window, knowing how it all ends.


Today's book of poetry enjoyed reading these poems out loud.  Late last night, in bed, I read "The Hundreds" to my wife K, she put down the giant biography of Theodore Roosevelt she was reading and listened hard.  K is always a good measure, I didn't have to prompt, just waited for her response. "Remarkable."  She was right.  Chris Banks has found a secret source of almost perfect metaphor and hammered it into these well crafted narrative poems. 

Our morning read was a particularly happy one this morning as we welcomed back Otis, our security chief, from Belgium and the Pistol, our Dutch translator, who was out in eastern Canada learning French and swimming with the fishes in the very cold ocean.  Both men are sometime contributors to Today's book of poetry but we always miss them when they are not around.

The Cloud Versus Grand Unification Theory

I am not asking for anything except a little wisdom
from this life. Experience has taught me to be
prepared for when a bullet passes clean through,
it leaves a hole behind. Praising things is its own job.
That we might actually know two or three people,
despite battalions of online friends, is a consolation
prize for not solving the Grand Unification Theory
or writing thirty novels or discovering a ninth planet.
Living becomes its own masterpiece. A catalogue
of blunders and missteps and then, a surprise party!
I have met a few certifiable geniuses in my day
and they were all disappointingly human. Failure
is a bogeyman. What happens next is up to you.
The brain does not care we are are only so many miles
of nerve-endings. It wants to go further off-leash.
What is the real story here? Some days, it is all
caviar and champagne, and the next, forty horses
die in a barn fire. No angels earn their wings. People
lie to each other out of fear, to spare each other's
feelings. What kind of man does that make me?
I tell elaborate lies to ascertain the truth. I resolve
to get out of bed most mornings, to witness
the past like a boarded-up pawn shop, to read
what life throws in my path the way ancient priests
read bones, which is to say inscrutably. Make it
up anyways. What I need is another mass grave
for my doubts to pile into. I keep thinking about
that engineering student who tied a piece of rope
to a hydro pole, passed it through his car's window,
before cinching it around his neck and driving off,
or a woman I saw once spread her arms before
diving off a three-storey parking lot. At what
point do we give up and surrender to our desires,
even if they end up killing us?  Maybe I'm being
greedy wanting art to be more than a bowl of fruit,
wanting there to be answers. Who is listening?
The partygoers nibble the caviar and move on.


The Cloud Versus Grand Unification Theory is about as good as it gets here at Today's book of poetry.  What else can we ask for?  This is exactly the sort of magic we live for here.  Intelligent, witty, inventive, exciting, lyric and so on.  But by far the most important quality is that these are accessible poems.  Today's book of poetry always looks for that first, the rest is gravy.

Chris Banks surprised the bejesus out us with The Cloud Versus Grand Unification Theory.  We should get this lucky more often.

Image result for chris banks poet photo
Chris Banks

Chris Banks is the author of Bonfires, The Cold Panes of Surfaces, and Winter Cranes. His first full-length collection, Bonfires, was awarded the Jack Chalmers Award for poetry by the Canadian Authors’ Association in 2004 and was a finalist for the Gerald Lampert Award for best first book of poetry in Canada. His poetry has appeared in the New Quarterly, Arc, the Antigonish Review, Event, the Malahat Review, and Prism International, among other publications. He lives and writes in Waterloo, Ontario.



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