“Concrete Promises”Interview with Charles Banks, Jr.
(Poet, Freelance Poetry Editor, Flyer Designer,
Budding Self-Publisher, Blogger)
Interview by Carla Westbrook,
in association with Spilt Ink Poetry.
The weather is overcast; a Friday morning in February, a writer sits under a dimly lit lamp in an El Segundo, California café. He is intensely writing away in a notebook, only looking up to accept a steaming hot cup from a waitress. Generously, he accepts the cup with a nod and goes back to his writing. It is a shock that he is able to go back to his everyday routine. Just a month ago, he lay flat on a cold operating table as doctors conducted a fourteen-hour surgery to remove a cancerous tumor from his salivary gland. From afar, you could not tell, but as I approached and introduced myself, the scars from his cancer fight reared their ugly head. Unable to use the entire right side of his face, his ability to smile, temporarily disabled, Poet Charles Banks, Jr. has found the strength to pick up his pen again. And with some slurred speech, he apologetically and graciously accepted my battery of questions.
Carla Westbrook: So, you have a new book…
Charles Banks, Jr.: Yep, looks like it (slight chuckle).
Carla: Book five. What can we (readers) expect when flipping through its pages?
Charles: Concrete Promises is a simplistic approach to love, written in an uncomplicated fashion. When penning this chapbook, I did not want the writing to be clouded by any fancy language or the message points somehow lost in the translation that occurs from the time the reader reads the writing and the interpretation of the writing.
Carla: You wanted it to be matter-of-fact?
Carla: I have followed your writing and read your blog for a couple of years now, and there is a level of drama involved, theatrics. Why go against that now?
Charles: First of all, I’ve always been dramatic. (Laughs) I think more so as a child. Now I can utilize that part of my being in my poetry. In regards to this process, I simply made the decision that I wanted to write about how we (human beings) want the experience of love to be, not how it actually turns out. It’s how you would feel when you first meet someone. It’s blissful, uninhibited bliss. Simple.
Carla: As I read through your book I could not help but reminisce about my own first experience with love, and I recalled a bit of naivety. Was it the same for you? Your first experience with love.
Charles: I think so, but that’s pretty natural. It’s a normal process to be naïve to the reality of what’s going on. Sometimes I think people subconsciously or unconsciously focus on the good parts of their significant other—the attractive parts. I think we become blinded by the blissfulness of it all in the beginning.
Carla: Have you ever been in love?
Charles: (Pause). I’m not sure. I’ve had two significant relationships of note. You know, I think I know what love is if I saw it in front of me. For instance, my grandparents will be celebrating 30 years of marriage this summer. They argue and butt heads all the time; does that mean they’re not in love? To me, love is all about compromise and sacrifice and trust.
Carla: Concrete Promises, in essence, dismisses the detriments to a relationship: the arguments, distrust, apprehension.
Charles: Yes and no. The book was written with the beginning of a relationship in mind. It documents some of the things that may get in the way. Curiosity spends a portion of the book trying to convince his significant other to trust in their bond. In a sense, he’s trying to save her from herself. Her distrust, her skepticism. He deals with some of his own internal doubt too.
Carla: Two poems come to mind instantly. Not Just Yet and Captain Savior.
Carla: Tell me about those poems.
Charles: Well, it took me quite a while to develop a finished version of both poems; ten or so drafts of each and two or three years of editing. They are key poems in the chapbook. Both help to display very real traits of a budding relationship: cautious skepticism and a sense of obligation to be a savior of sorts.
Carla: What do you say to someone who says your book might be ‘cliché?’
Charles: Funny. In a lot of ways, I’d probably agree with them. That was one of the hurdles I encountered while writing. I treaded along a very thin line, often times crossing over to cliché often. I would respond ‘Yes, there are a number of cliché moments, but it all plays to my intended goal for this book… simplicity. Love should be simple, in my opinion. Often times, that’s just not the case. But how wonderful it is to yearn for that. To imagine it. Maybe it’s just the hopeless romantic that dwells inside of me.
Carla: You recently experienced a life-altering event. Most all of us know of someone who has, or have personally experienced the horrors of cancer. How has this trying time affected you?
Charles: Aside from the obvious, it’s been a tough situation. I’ve seen more hospitals than I care to in the past couple of months. It happened so quickly. Up until November of last year, I was relatively healthy, and then in the blink of an eye, it seemed like my life rapidly began to change. I lost a lot of weight. The right side of my face became paralyzed. And the pain from the tumor growing on my jaw… definitely the lowest point of my life.
Carla: Has cancer changed your writing in any way?
Charles: (Pause). No. The doctors took a piece of my jaw, not my ability to write… to think, to articulate my thoughts. If anything, I’ve developed a slight paranoia, my senses have heightened. I am more in tuned with my surroundings. My eyes have been opened to small things I otherwise would not have seen or paid any attention to.
Carla: What’s next for Curiosity? The light-hearted, soft-spoken, tender character you have created.
Charles: Well, Concrete Promises is the first installment in the Spilt Ink Poetry Collection, which is a five-part collection of poetry chapbooks. I go back and forth writing as both Black Angel and Curiosity. Chapbook number two belongs to Black Angel, but Curiosity will be back in the third installment: Midnight.
· Carla Westbrook