reviewed by Jennifer Michael Hecht
Ari Banias’s first book is the portrait of an inner life that asks itself steadily how anybody or any body can be said to be anybody—girl, boy, fox, or cop. This charming, chattering young self is preoccupied with emptiness: plastic bags filled with plastic bags; pockets, and poignant absences of pockets, as on a prisoner’s coat, in which you are not allowed to hide things. The empty spaces seem to signify dull fear, not knowing others, and not yet knowing the self. Banias notes sharply the endless performances of masculinity as “feeding pennies into a slot.” There are corrections historicized by inclusion, so that speaking of paint jobs, Banias explains, “I wrote ‘pain jobs,’ / then fixed it.” In the same poem he lets us know that the tangerine on his desk is the same color as the pair of earplugs, even though it “doesn’t / hugely matter.” But of course it does. Deep inside “Villagers” we hear a hint of his barely hinted-at rage. “Handshake” gives us his roughhousing father. All family gender here is conflated and ambiguous. Banias writes about distress and about whiteness—a key poem is the disruptive family story of “Wedding.” At the end of the collection we find wonder: “two beefed-up guys” lift a huge disco ball from a truck on the Bowery and “every / surface around them trembled with flecks of light.”
This review originally appeared in American Poets, Fall–Winter 2016.