MP Review Georgia Ann Banks-Martin, Rhapsody For Lessons Learned Or Remembered
ISBN: 13 : 978-1935514640 Plainview Press
$14.95 / 80 pages Reviewer: Connie Lane Williams Bio for Connie Lane Williams
a printable Page fifteen September, 2011
A POEM IS A PICTURE A review of Georgia Ann Banks-Martin's "Rhapsody For Lessons Learned"
by Connie Lane Williams
Rhapsody for Lessons Learned or Remembered, a collection of Ekphrastic poetry by Georgia Ann Banks-Martin, is presented to the reader in a slick soft cover of Navy and Red, designed by Susan Bright of Plainview Press, the publisher, in Austin, Texas. Ms. Banks-Marin herself, however, is from Detroit, and after relocating to Alabama, earned a B.A. from Huntingdon College and an MFA from Queens University of Charlotte, North Carolina.
The challenge of any Ekphrastic poem, is to comprehend the intention of the poet, without benefit of the object portrayed by the poem, which in this case is art, paintings by great masters. We do not have the advantage of any piece of art displayed in the book as we survey this work. Therefore, I attempt with a couple of exceptions to explore the essence of each poem without the visual lead of the art itself.
It is difficult to leave the first poem, “Evening Guitar” (13); it is filled with the iconic images of Mississippi of the past (we assume): people washing clothes, / fishing, pressing hair. At this point I did attempt a glimpse of the artwork and found that I overlooked many of the images the poet describes and found the poem much more satisfactory than my personal interpretation of the actual work.
In “Railroad Station” (16), without looking at the painting, this shot of life grips us with a brave heart as we visualize its bold imagery. We see a train station with easily identifiable “folks” milling about. In this poem the author describes a woman in a corner perhaps speaking to her parents, husband, and these possible words: “what is here is better than there.” Indicating there is a destination ahead. In this poem boy holds his stomach, she writes “as though hoping mama brought some cornbread and greens” while “father (apparently) stands silently holding suit cases in each hand like dumbbells.” All people of color: “their heads seem bowed as if in tribulation” because of a need to relocate. Immediately I understand that my cultural background has not equipped me for interpretation of this work without the poem. I have no understanding of the massive relocation of African Americans during this time frame.
As I read “Madonna and child” and the author describes a white baby doll, a golden Jesus (23), I am reminded of my own first baby doll, a rag doll that had two sides, circa 1940s, made from draperies. Just pull the skirt over and find on one end a black face, or the other, a white one. I didn’t know the difference then, no one had taught me and I am reminded that love is what we are born with, and fear is what we are taught.
In “Mother’s Lessons” (25), we visualize a working class of black servants at a university, where in another generation their own children will attend classes. From the ghosts of the Ku Klux Klan (31) desecrating sacred homes of the black population to “Conjure Woman,” this poet conjures the images of the personalities that speak to her from the paintings. The poet is immersed in the work as she tells us “Her eyes watch, / which question why / I have come.
After reading these poems I visited the Western Heritage event in Abilene, Texas. I could not help but notice not that much has changed. I became aware of the status of black workers around the coliseum and the business of the well-to-do ranchers and participants of this typical Texas event, a part of seemingly mythological traditions of the past, yet so far from Mississippi of yester year carried on yet today.
Many of us have spent our entire lives chasing words, a loop from a pen bending meaning, tying down a rhythm or rhyme. Although some say a picture is worth a thousand words, in this collection of poems, I have my doubts. Reading the wordsmithery of Georgia Ann Banks–Martin provides dormant insight and we wake up from a long sleep to the piercing reality of the continuing African American heritage one frame at a time. She slices and dices a sliver of art and pastes it on a page, and it lives.
Author Bio Georgia Ann Banks-Martin was born in Lincoln Park, MI on Feb. 6, 1971. She was raised on the southwest side of Detroit in the area known as Marion Park. She attended Beard Elementary, Wilson Middle School, and Southwestern High. However, she completed high school at Sidney Lanier in 1989 after relocating to Montgomery, AL during the summer of 1988. She earned her BA in English, Language Arts at Huntingdon College, Montgomery, AL(1997) and her M.F.A. (Poetry) at Queens University of Charlotte, located in Charlotte, NC (2009). Currently she is pursuing a Ph.D. in Mythological Studies at Pacifica Graduate Institute, Carpentaria, CA.