'BANKS, Woman from the Moon' by Christina Cacouris
by PAN .
March 20, 2020
Why do we see the moon as female? There’s no end to the poetry describing women as lunar beings (Sappho: “Now she shines like / The rose fingered moon”; Sylvia Plath: “The moon is my mother”). The association is mirrored in classical mythology, which traditionally represents the moon as a woman and the sun as a man (for the Greeks, it was twins Artemis and Apollo, respectively).
So perhaps we’ve been indoctrinated over time into associating the two. But perhaps it’s more than that. Literature and poetry aside, women seem to feel a greater connection with nature—and particularly with the moon—than men ever report. Witchcraft, seen as the sinister apotheosis of women’s power, is equally nocturnal and moon-based.
Singer, songwriter, and poet Banks asserts the moon’s femininity in her first book of poetry, Generations of Women from the Moon. “For me, the moon is female,” explains Banks. “That’s just how I view it. It feels feminine. There’s a maternal sense to it, as if it’s watching over us at night; it feels gentle, but strong, like women are.”
She considers this further. “Sometimes they’re not gentle,” she adds, with a laugh. (In Plath’s poem, after claiming the moon as her mother, she continues: “She is not sweet like Mary.”) “But it’s interesting,” Banks says of the association between women and the moon. “I’ve thought a lot about it before.”
Feminine, maternal—the moon is also luminescent, powerful. “I want to be like the moon,” begins one of her poems. “It doesn’t doubt itself, / Or think it’s not enough to fly, / No- just because we see it as a half moon shape it doesn’t cry.” Some of Banks’s poems read like short stories, others like lullabies. In the titular poem, “Generations of Women from the Moon”, the narrator describes her conception: “My mother May ran to the sun / She said it was when she was young… Then she got pregnant by the moon / And she had me”.
“I always have felt like poetry was really dreamy,” says Banks. “Like a life inside of a life.” Her first poem, she says, was written at age 5. “I remember the cover of Shel Silverstein’s book ‘Falling Up’, that was one of my favorite things. I think that reading poetry that felt a little bit childish but with a lot of depth has always really connected with me.”
Poetry and music have long been intertwined, and one could argue that lyrics to a song function no differently than verses in a poem, though the two remain firmly separate endeavors for Banks. “When I sit down to write a song, I know it’s a song, and whenever I’m writing a poem, I know I’m writing a poem, and they stay in their own little crevices inside me,” she says. Only once has a poem ever bled into her music: “I was working on a song called ‘The Fall’ which is on my album [III], and the bridge is like rap; I ended up being inspired by the poem I wrote the day before,” she says. “The rhythm changed a little bit, but was pretty much a play off the poem ‘Slippin’. That’s the only time that that’s happened.”
Beyond rhythmic similarities between songs and poetry, imagery also comes into play. In Generations of Women from the Moon, imagery is both literal and figurative—in addition to the worlds conjured up by the poems, Banks sketched accompanying images for the majority of the poems, sometimes loosely defined. “There’s an innocence to a lot of my poems that was fun for me to draw, because a lot of it feels childish in a certain way,” she says. “Playful and childish.”
She considers visuals equally when approaching writing and recording music: “If I’m writing, I see a color in my mind,” she says. “When I’m a recording a song, I like to have the lights off if I’m trying to really be in it, because then you could move in the world within the song rather than the mood that you’re in.”
Banks is considering recording a spoken-word album of her poetry, though she acknowledges that it would solidify the form and style of the poems, which could limit their interpretations. “You can control how somebody hears a poem in a song; you can sing it a certain way with a beat behind it,” she says. “But just written words on paper—people could read it with a different rhythm. I always wonder if people read my poetry the same way I read it and with the same melodic rhythm.”
“One of my fans posted a video of her reading ‘Like The Moon’ and she read it exactly how I wrote it, which made me really happy,” she adds. I ask if she’s seen videos of fans reading her poetry differently than she intended. (She hasn’t, but it wouldn’t bother her.) “It’s kind of like a song,” she says. “It could mean one thing to one person and another thing to another. That’s why sometimes I don’t like saying what a song is about, because if it’s about something really important to somebody, and I’m sitting here, the person who wrote the song, saying it’s not about that, it could make them feel less connected to it, and I don’t want to do that.”
In her down time between tour cycles, she continues to write poems, usually just for herself. “As I get older, I realize more and more that I need to constantly be creating, or I feel really anxious,” she says. “It’s been fun for me to find other mediums that I like to create in.” Many of the messages of the poems seem intended for her audience, but it’s ‘Like the Moon’ that seems the most self-directed, a mantra of self-worth amidst a career in a world that tends to judge and tear down:
“If something covers up my light,
I will not doubt that it exists,
I will not try to prove that it is simply from a great eclipse,
I will stay put holding my ground,
knowing I’m full with or without,
Approval from others account of what they see; I’m all full now.”
FOR MORE ON BANKS OR TO PURCHASE HER BOOK OF POEMS:
Photo credit: BANKS by Steph Wilson