Sasha Banks’ poetry collection america, MINE is not just an important retelling of ghosts and ancestors of our past in the scope of African American history; it is a premonition of what is to come in Black people’s future. It completely delivers beyond what is expected in a debut poetry book.
In the opening of the book in the poem “Recollect,” the format is similar to that of a written history exam, but with a twist that requires deeper reflection. Banks calls out the history of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade, The Trail of Tears, Japanese Internment Camps, and more in order to draw the reader in to why the “a” in “america” is lowercased throughout the entire collection, and why fictional depictions of Banks’ séance at Monticello and defacements at Mount Rushmore are valid. Black people’s anger with america is often conflated with unnecessary vitriol. Banks doesn’t sugarcoat it; our anger is necessary. In the titular poem “america, MINE” she writes, “the spit upon this/country’s flag is mine and/I do/not weep at it/” In her series of “uhmareka [essentially, america that is not in the now], post collapse” poems, she requires the reader read about what it means to navigate “how to/love a country/that hated you, first.” What does redemption look like after an ongoing time of so much pain?
The use of erasure in a series of presidential order poems is pure genius. The placement of the order of presidents, excluding Donald Trump each time (rightfully so), are spelled differently every page and reveal which presidents are displayed and which are erased. Similar to how we have “uhmareka,” we are able to take down problematic past and present politicians down many pegs through a “Prissodenshull Urder.” This is done with the purest amount of intention; it is not aimless at all. Each shadow of the next page you turn is redolent of the book’s consistent spookiness because of its print on vellum paper specifically for these poems only. On the final piece of the presidential poems is “resident order” and the only president left alone on the page is Obama. Whether or not you as reader can interpret the section ending on a high note or a low note because he is the only president with African American descent in this order is based on how you feel.
The term “Afrofuturism” is often used within the scope of science fiction and Black people in the future, but it can be used through the lens of Black people, literally and legitimately, existing in the future. In order for us to realistically see Black people in the future, Banks shows us that Black people have the capability to live fruitful lives of full-fledged freedom from systemic and internalized insecurities often faced. In “uhmareka post post collapse: four” Banks calls by name a future of systems “vanishing or/existing less and less”; “and maybe/so much death is vanishing or existing less and less.” Banks calls by name a future for herself and for her future daughter in her final poem of the book “Sasha’s Waltz on the Wreckage.”
The journey of the lens of uhmeraka is worth the read. I read this book twice in a row because of the desire to reawaken to Banks’ motifs of ghostliness and the positives of the U.S. collapse as a system in the name of healing for Black people. The visuals of the transparent vellum pages of the erasure poems, and the print and cover art are haunting in the best way possible.
You can order Banks’ book here (It comes out April 24th, don’t miss it!) as well as witness her amazing deconstruction of poetry as a protest and her beautiful reading of “God Bless america” on PBS Newshour.
Maya Williams (she/they) is a Black Mixed Race queer suicide survivor currently residing in Portland, ME. She has published essays in venues such as The Tempest, Rooted in Rights, O.School, Black Youth Project and more. They also work as a spoken word poet and actor/consent educator with a non-profit in Maine. Follow Maya @emmdubb16 on Twitter and Instagram. Maya also has a website: https://www.mayawilliamspoet.com/published-works