Field Basansikis has just debuted a major achievement; an event at Yellowhead Brewery on January 14 celebrated Basansikis’ two new books, one of which is being reviewed here, and his new punk/pop band Dead Window Bird. Supporting Basansikis at the release were Folk legend Bill Bourne and the inimitable Ben Spencer, featuring backup vocals by Jay Gilday.
Basansikis’ new book of poems, Poems Written on the Bus, is a transcendent witness to the universal suffering and loneliness of the human condition. Basansikis’ poetic persona plays both confessing (if innocent) sinner and priest who receives the confession he finds implicit in the reader: “They say you are a weapon of starlight and I have sensed the way your kisses die unsung upon the shores of the day.”
It is confessional and devotional, with a poetics of conspiracy with the reader; the second person “you” is extremely common, as is Basansikis’ trademark homophony: “You left me a loan to stand alone in weakness and suffering, but you could not identify the prisoner from the unwellness, and I think I might pull at least a pear of nails from your crucifixion tree.”
As in his earlier poetry, the effect on the reader is liberation. There is a sense of being consoled about our deeply hidden suffering by someone who has suffered for many years, and used that experience to communicate with the compassion and suffering universal in the human heart.
Besides the confessional and priestly persona, the poems occasionally feature the horny rogue—a lonely, undersexed creature praying to the wind for love: “Said the Zombie to the zoo: ‘Sex with myself never felt deader!'” and “Ugly duckling just quit smoking. Has a date with destiny, but until then very, very dateless.”
So much of this reads like prayer and consolation that the book as a whole resembles a collection of Sufi verse or Rabindranath Tagore. They are poems that reward daily reading of a page or two to experience that liberating consolation.
Some of the verses strongly resemble Zen Koans, the meditative sayings characteristic of that tradition: “All stones dream of sinking and never reaching the bottom” and “What you have to share will need much sun and rain upon it.”
I loved this book and I think it will appeal to those interested in religious poetry and to those who love public transit, since the bus (especially the ETS #9 and 109) are characters in the book.
Basansikis calls himself a genius throughout, which is not characteristic of works of genius. But, I am willing to accept the poet’s claim. Genius is situational (even if it requires a relatively high IQ to begin with). Geniuses are rarely born; they are formed from a diversity of experience and from the struggle. Basansikis has suffered and undergone every discomfort focused on the goal of being able to communicate in this transcendent way, which is rare as any genius is.
My final response to Poems Written on the Bus is to reflect Basansikis’ words: “I have seen you in your deepest need, worn like a robe that is worn from traveling your most necessary path.”