Exile on a Grid Road is a celebration and exploration of the human experience, from youth to adulthood and illness to joy. Sadness, healing, humour, forgiveness, and joyfulness mingle as Shelley Banks creates detailed narratives of office life, failing health, and complex relationships and confronts the rootlessness and disconnection common to a contemporary experience marked by globalization and increasing mobility. In many of her poems, Banks presents the conundrum of belonging, identity, and culture. She displays an intimate knowledge of the many environments in which she has lived but also possesses an underlying disconnect due to the temporary nature of her stay in each place. Though poems such as “Moon Offering” and “Grasshopper Summer” are rich with natural imagery of the Canadian prairies, Banks’ writes, “I have no farm./I am three generations past my mother’s flight/from saddles, curry combs and dill./I am afraid of horses./I’m city-deep.” She expresses a similar separation from her youth in the Caribbean, recalling the vivid details of storms, beaches, and “curry, chutney, tangerines” yet reasserting her alienation and feelings of loss. Encounters with mortality are brought into sharp relief in later sections when Banks introduces an elderly grandmother, aging family pets, and the sudden death of a parent on his way to McDonald’s for a morning coffee. In “Kiss of Knives”, a sequence of nine poems which follows a woman battling breast cancer, Banks reveals her insight into the complexity of emotion present while dealing with illness. This complexity is especially evident in the poem “2: Wings Spread Under Glass” when a woman “so tired she can’t walk/across a grocery store” agonizes that she has become a neglectful parent even as she fights to stay alive.
Banks’ quiet wit keeps her serious subject matter from overwhelming by presenting mundane details of working life with fresh observational humour, including describing tea that “is cold and tastes like chewing gum” and expressing envy towards an irresponsible coworker who “wears Black Cashmere,/come-fuck-me shoes.” She uses rich imagery to evoke nostalgia and to remind readers of the details we often miss during the process of daily life. By combining sharp observation, humour, and accessible verse, Exile on a Grid Road reveals the wonders to be found among the seemingly mundane details of the day to day.