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Song of Himself:
Chris Banks' Midlife Action Figure

Chris Banks Midlife Action Figure
Chris Banks, Midlife Action Figure
Toronto: ECW Press, 2019.

Generation X is possibly best defined in 1999’s Fight Club, in which Tyler Durden suggests, “We’re the middle children of history, man. No purpose or place. We have no Great War. No Great Depression. Our Great War’s a spiritual war.” This outlook may be reflected in the fact that, according to a recent article in the Times UK, Generation X is now the most likely to die from overdoses, or in Gen X’s struggle/inability to get out from under the economic juggernaut of home ownership. Such issues make Gen X rife for poetic examination, which is exactly what one can find in Midlife Action Figure.

Generation X survivor Chris Banks, like Will Oldham, Emily Haines, Winona Ryder, Heather O’Neill and rob mclennan, is an artist practicing his craft in the midst of a generational ice age—seeing fit to carve work from the ever-accruing reflection of our own lives and the signifiers, pop culture or otherwise, that plague our tender psyche because we are incapable of letting go completely. “I know nothing about lightness,” Banks writes in the poem “Honesty,” which continues, “or the inner landscape of beauty, or the divining rod of truth, or any other risible poetic statement.” What does Banks know? He knows what he feels, what he sets out to exorcise from his finely aged subjectivity.

Midlife Action Figure is a dark collection disguising its angst with colourful vintage signifiers, and deft linguistic choreography. Midlife is Banks’ fifth collection, and first since 2017’s The Cloud Versus Grand Unification Theory (also by ECW Press), and it has no room for white space or playful indentations or other lexical confetti. These poems are packed to the brim. Mortality, family pop culture, society, our disconnections, connections and societal misfirings all collide in well-oiled finality, emulative of hip-hop lyrics’ ability to produce lilting meaning with a beat.

Almost like an overqualified CV, the collection at times is too clever for its own good; the power of these tight poems overwhelms on occasion. Banks has built a warm and cozy nostalgia generator with a twist, filtering in his own lyric clairvoyance, and he holds up his age-revealing garage sale gems one last time in a never-looking-back type sacrifice in “Crusade.” Here the economy of memory and reality collide: “No one wants the good china. / Meet me at the safe house. Pry open a few floorboards and you are sure to find an old beer bottle.” There’s even a poem that acts as a stand in for a last will and testament by way of small press Canadian poetry. In “Living Will,” Banks writes, “To my brother who / shares my disease, a tumbler of ice and promises,” and later, after reminiscing on hard candy centres, television news, ego and anger, he concludes “To the field brightening with yellow flowers, / I leave a little red fox in possession of you.”

Banks isn’t always looking inward, however. His generosity is visible throughout this highly-readable collection. “It’s not easy, Dear Reader, to be locked in a cage match with you. Stand on my shoulders. Stare out the narrow casement of chance.” Banks’s work reminds the universe that poetry is part of a cultural ecosystem; together, reader and poet are connected in a long-distance relationship that defies status update or preference setting. While the world continues to complicate itself, Midlife Action Figure lingers in a netherworld of seasons, neither hopeful nor damning, but always alert and coherent, wanting to say just the right thing, to anyone still willing to listen.

 

Nathaniel G. Moore is the author of Goodbye Horses (Mansfield, 2018) and co-editor of Toronto Noir. He lives in Fredericton and is working on a new novel. He also dabbles in PR www.moorehype.com

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