Exile on a Grid Road

3 November 2015

Exile on a Grid Road
by Shelley Banks
Published by Thistledown Press
Review by Shelley A. Leedahl
$12.95 ISBN 978-1-77187-057-3

Robins, grackles, gulls, airport snow geese, a Great Horned Owl, iconic chick-a-dees that eat peanuts from the palm of a hand, pigeons, Ruby-throated hummingbirds in bougainvillea. Birds flutter in and out of Exile on a Grid Road by longtime Regina writer and photographer Shelley Banks. In her inaugural poetry collection, the multi-genre scribe demonstrates that she’s also paid attention to dogs and cats, insects, rain, the myriad plants (“natives and exotics”) that grow alongside gravel roads, and, of course, to the human heart.

Why is this all important? Because life whizzes by, and most of us don’t take the time to stop and consider how a grasshopper resembles a twig on a patio gate, or how-on a grave or anywhere else in a certain season-“lumps of clay jut\through the snow”. This is the very stuff of life; it counterbalances the tedium of work-a-day lives, the horrors of cancer and chemotherapy, the shadows that deaths leave behind. It’s good and necessary to celebrate what goes on beneath the glossy surface of life, and that’s what poets like Banks do so well.

The finely-tuned poems in this book are mostly short, and Banks has employed various styles: free verse, quatrains, couplets, haiku, a prose poem, a pantoum, concrete poetry, and even a found poem, “Swordfish,” “from text describing complex patterns in number puzzles from an online Sudoku Guide.” This diversity might signal that some of these pieces were written while the writer was in a poetry class, or perhaps she just enjoys the freedom of experimentation. The variety is aesthetically appealing, as is the range in subject matter.

“Greed” is among the poet’s many considerations. An octogenarian is greedy for “dregs of wine, the last peanut skins,” and Banks examines the greediness of the photographer who’s compelled to “capture” the image of an owl and satisfy her “need not to believe\but prove this presence”. She continues:
and the memory of the great
owl’s soaring grace
flounders in desire,

to just another checklist photo

Banks is competent in the mechanics of poetry. Note that in the above excerpt (from “Raw Desire”) she’s placed “reduced” and “lost” on their own. This gives these words more weight, so they reverberate and meaning is heightened. Great care’s also taken with line breaks in this collection: end-line words “swing” backward and forward, giving lines double meaning and impact. Phrases like “the clouds slate\submarines patrolling the horizon” and “a galaxy of farms” demonstrate originality and grace.

The “bird-stained window” in “The Strike Drags On” is, for this reader, an ideal metaphor for this accomplished collection. The poet is an acute observer (the window), who records and shares personal observations and experiences in poems that sometimes whisper, sometimes sing, and sometimes howl. Yes, there are “stains,” and that’s the reality of anyone’s flight through this world, but there is also joy, and praise .. for the moments, for oranges, for snow melt, and “one light\far off\along the wingtip”.

These are poems to let steep, and read again.


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