DTR is an acronym for ‘define the relationship’, a crucial question one asks the other early on in dating, and usually by text or direct message. This title serves as the scaffold for Banks’s emphatic collection which exposes the uneasy truths within our structured realities. These are poems that switch between cyber space to back street waiting room, from stream of consciousness to billboard rhetoric, dismantling structures as they go with punch and precision, and a bracing sense of hustle. An assured wisdom is rendered clearly through Banks’s poetic voice which manages to both haunt and hold its reader inside the moment.
Banks is a poet concerned with the real-time capture of poetic process – that fourth dimension – where a poem is taken into the mouth and spoken, its physicality felt, where enunciation becomes resident, where meaning and sound are shrugged off. Immediacy, then, in this collection is integral when speaking of cyber space, of thought space, of one click, one wide finger-stretch and a zoom. All the minutiae which are embedded in the moment are given eye to, things we rarely attend to, so implicit in the ‘now’ that they are.
As a collection, DTR punctuates how relationships are transforming due to technology, how we click instead of talk, devise digital versions of ourselves in click-bait interactions that redefine the vitals of what modern liaisons really are. ‘It’s not like you don’t know’ is an online interaction between a narrator and a female based in China whose exchange is besieged by technical glitches and pauses. The paradox of online relationships emerges, and switchblade sharply too, how technology only serves as ‘a pink-plate puzzle to keep us apart. / It’s malware of the mind…’ Distance between them is only made more lucid when they ‘complain/ about messages not getting through…’ and the absurd disconnection of their perceived connection emerges as the very ‘…language of the problem.’
Female dismemberment and mutilation are rinsed through the collection. ‘The Magdalene’s Prayer’ explores Mary the Sinner in an every-woman style version of horror where harm is doctrine. Each verse layers violence against women on violence until there is a metronomic climax of the letter M: ‘ mastery, mind, matter-made-metal.’ The word ‘marry’ implies forced marriage and then rape and then it becomes an umbrella term for every abuse a woman suffers, every plea made: ‘marry is cry, marry is stop / marry is mama marry is no / you hurt me o god’ The consonant surge of M becomes a mantra in the mouth for religious suffering, the stopped voice of every Mary.
In the same poem, Mary’s Special Party relates the horror of a girl attending her own party where her genitals are mutilated: ‘gone pleasure nub, gone petal frill / that hooped her hole.’ The pared back simplicity of the language, here, and the vulva’s florid softness lends more severance to the delivery. There are further cuts in ‘Finding the edge’, where the speaker has ‘lost my fingers to the pinch point’ ‘I keep my mouth shut now / dabble stumps in the nearest puddle.’ Particularly when the body has been dissected, Banks gives voice.
In ‘SOFT’, a woman attends a consultation for rhinoplasty and another woman’s post-treatment testimonial is juxtaposed against positive affirmations such as ‘I CAN DO THIS!’ The beauty industry’s manipulation is exhibited with forensic incision, a slow-building torture that readers flinch from. ‘The main thing we must remember, he said, as he held the hook over her face, is that this cannot be reversed.’ Banks opens up illogical constructions of beauty with a tri-fold merging of mediums as process that magnify the ugly underneath.
This is a critical collection that carves into gendered abuse, exposing social barbs and it does so with vim. A collection I will urge female friends to read. A book I want to wrap fingers tightly around and say go carefully, this cuts. It’s unusual to find a voice this wilful, this knowing, that delivers its blows with as much light and speed.