David Banks
Celt Seed. Selected Poems

February 2003. 104 pp. ISBN-13 978-3-901993-13-8; ISBN-10 3-901993-13-4
£10.50 (+ 2.00 p&p), €13.00 (+ 2.50 p&p), US$ 18.00 (+ 3.00 p&p)
 

Banks's poetry is not musical in the nineteenth-century sense; like most, he has discarded rhymes and regular lines and devises his own prosody by returning to the original resources of the vernacular. This is where the tutelary figure of Basil Bunting comes in, not only for the example he gives of integrity and dedication to his art even in the absence of the recognition he knew he deserved, but also as a poetic model, as the master of the short line and language rid of all but the essential words. Banks's poetry should not be viewed as an imitation of Bunting's, but as a continuation of it. The poems in the "Death and Ever After" section, and particularly the five meditations, obviously the most ambitious in the collection, are also the most successful illustration of the method, combining scope with the concentration of language more frequently found in short poems of the haiku type. The essential point I think is that while these meditations certainly have a paraphrasable meaning that we can understand, I am sure that we are not expected to understand, not expected, that is to exert our analytical mind and puzzle out the meaning; we are meant to re-live, re-experience and enjoy the meditation as it is carried not by conceptual thought but by poetic language. []
There must be something of the stylite in Banks; not asceticism exactly (the erotic poems belie that) but a need to get to essentials, to our bare meta-physical bones; one is reminded of man's history as summarized by Henri Michaux: "then he was weaned and entrusted to the sand, for he was in a desert". Banks's deserts, especially the black sands of Iceland, are powerful ambivalent symbols: either the blank lifeless expanse of the world on its last morning ("Desert black"), or, in a new version of the creation, the checker board Thor made with snow and black sand, then smashed after losing us, his chessmen, to Christianity; the windblown sand then serves as an image of the original curse, blinding man's eyes and spoiling his bread.

Denis Rigal


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