Anybody by Ari Banias
Anybody, Ari Banias’s debut collection, examines our invented understanding of a world we’ve codified with language and made, because of these codifications, at times less visible to ourselves and to our own understandings. So many of the collection’s poems interrogate the taxonomical and transactional erasures created by human naming, particularly as this act of naming turns on us, on human life. And so pronouns come into play in Anybody, of course, but also of interest to Banias are objects we might categorize as quotidian, inconspicuous, or relatively unimportant. For Banias, these objects give us access to a better understanding of both ourselves and the erasures that language has performed on us. Because of this, Banias’s speakers take on a kind of reverence for the objects they encounter: from pockets to plastic bags, snowballs to shit, everything in Anybody is seen as an extension of human seeing, of the world as it relates to the self, and of how we relate to one another.
In “Volley,” a poem whose central image is a small balloon, Banias writes, “think what this balloon might represent / if we passed it back and forth / and took turns adding our breath.” Objects—especially given our ideas of objects, which we so commonly internalize and apply to the human body—are, for Banias, opportunities for intimacy and connection: “Volley” closes,
I can’t just say innocent; I know that.
But I’m going to say innocent.
Innocent as a balloon
not meant to last.
Think of it handed back and forth between us.
This loaded, deceptively simple image seems in many ways central to Banias’s debut collection. If human naming has the potential to erase complexity—evidenced most clearly when some use language to marginalize or perpetuate the marginalization of others—then the project of Anybody is to use language, instead, to see and understand better, to see again.
“To learn to see beyond my seeing / I need to admit everything,” writes Banias in his poem “One Possible Reading Among Many,” but the confessions of Anybody often aren’t as autobiographical as they are epistemological—and I think much of the brilliance of Banias’s collection exists in the way its poems use this epistemological approach to expand and trouble our sense of unity. “Some Kind of We,” the collection’s first poem, focuses on this troubled but intimate notion of unification:
am trying to write, generally and specifically,
through what I see and what I know,
about my life (about our lives?),
if in all this there can still be—tarnished,
problematic, and certainly uneven—a we.
And much of the trouble of this idea of unification comes forward in the book through notions of gender. Among Anybody’s autobiographical confessions—and there seem to be many, some relating to love and sexuality, some to familial expectation and a somewhat distanced sense of Greek heritage—one that comes to the forefront is Banias’s being a man, which is informed by his also being trans. Banias uses this, then, to inform the epistemologies of many of his poem’s speakers, who investigate notions of gender, often male gender, and how these invented notions contribute to a divisive and damaging exclusivity, one that disrupts and abandons notions of “we” for, instead, the boundary between “them” and “us.” In “The Men,” Banias begins, “It seems necessary to say I watch them. / It seems necessary: them. This distance / between us. How at times it can shrink, then grow // with the removal of clothing.” The tongue-in-cheek of “shrink, then grow” becomes an outright theme for the poem and an indictment of the anatomical policing that gay cis culture wants to perform both overtly and invisibly:
Someone says take out your dick,
I want to see it.