“Yes, there will be blood; / it’s how everything arrives.”
—“Untitled (But Still a Warning, Though)”
Dallas-based poet Sasha Banks is ready to remind us that nothing in Uhmareka was born without staining the dirt red. Her debut collection, america, MINE (co•im•press, 2020), is comprised of 31 poems and interspersed images that serve as a Black woman’s indictment of linear time, an exceptional lyrical case in which she challenges readers to imagine what can be conjured from bloodshed. Banks’ urgent yet succinct writings and stark monotone visuals hauntingly coalesce to convey that “living is loud, but not the way dying is loud[.]”
In the debate over the recent trend of “enthusiasm” in literary criticism, I have no trouble erecting this hill and proceeding to die upon it: Banks’ america, MINE uniquely captures an Afrofuturism simultaneously defined, enriched, and liberated by its fluid temporality. Banks’ debut expertly takes the nebulous concept of “freedom” to task by inhabiting multiple time periods, spaces, and ancestral voices to portray both the breadth and complexity of the future to which its author aspires. Liberation, Banks’ poems argue, does not lie in a future that offers Blackness supremacy but rather in one that promises Blackness the latitude necessary to evolve.
america, MINE is, at its core, a fusion of seemingly forced perspectives: the image and the descriptor or, more specifically, the symbol and the symbolized. Banks illustrates Uhmareka’s journey toward and healing from “collapse” with an acerbic wit and methodical curiosity not unlike Horace Mitchell Miner’s satirical “Body Ritual of the Nacirema.” With such offerings as “From Canfield Green Apartments, Tituba, Rekia, and Cynthia Watch Michael Fall,” the poet masterfully reorients Miner’s thought exercise to directly confront the Black intergenerational trauma that renders it viable. Here in particular, Banks is plain in stating, language and visual in perfect concert, that there is no linear timeline for grief or revolution. Both occur in america, MINE as they do in actuality: in sequential stages, then all at once.
Banks also presents her own singular voice among the ancestral collective throughout america, MINE. As the author herself moves episodically through time, place, and ancestral subject, her observations as an individual draw the reader’s attention to the seemingly obvious fallacies of the Uhmarekin condition. In “Sasha Fells the Wildwood,” the author both laments and praises the successional nature of trauma as ritual: “Once my oppressors made the woods into coffins, now I cut down the trees myself to keep myself warm.” It is the moments of simple clarity in these self-inhabited pieces that make america, MINE the most successful in its Afrofuturistic goal of transporting reader alongside narrator to process future possibilities as a community.
Banks leads her audience by example to assess Black grief and its accompanying revolution as well as to utilize its fertile potential energy to imagine a new existence. “Uhmarekin History Suite” presents an array of art history textbook entries in one of Banks’ new realities; each work exhibited herein appears as an empty black frame accompanied by a poetic description of the resistance act “depicted.” By insisting that the reader use their own imagination to render her revolution and the world in its aftermath, Banks blurs the boundaries between remembering and mythologizing as a means of crediting both for the survival of the collective and the individual.
america, MINE is an exemplary collection of poems for several reasons, though perhaps chief among them is its power to read as both a testament and a prophecy. Banks not only indicts the Uhmarekin historical record but also accuses her reader, rightfully, of being lazy with our treatment of memory. Her “Ahistorical: The Founders’ Farce” best demonstrates the most cogent of america, MINE’s propositions: if this empire is built on lies (akin to George Washington’s mythical virtue), who can be freed by a change in the narrative and what must be done to free them? This uniquely intentional offering is an enchanting exploration of rage in the pursuit of truth and wonder, a truly electrifying debut.