Q&A with Roderick ‘Rudy’ Bankston, author of ‘Snippets of Soul, Too’

'Snippets of Soul, Too' is the haiku follow-up to 2018's 'Snippets of Soul in Seventeen Syllables' and the fourth book for the Madison writer.
Side by side images of the new book 'Snippets of Soul Too' and a photo of author Rudy Bankston
Photo of Rudy Bankston by Paulius Musteikis.
"Snippets of Soul, Too: Healing from Love" is available at iamweclassics.com.

Twenty years in prison drove Roderick “Rudy” Bankston to the dictionary, unlocking a lifelong passion for words. Sentenced to life at age 19 for a crime he didn’t commit, Bankston turned to books to not only make sense of the legal system that ensnared him, but to dive deep into the generations of structural and institutional systems that helped land him there. He wrote his first novel while incarcerated, which he published in 2016, just months after his release from prison in 2015 on appeal. Bankston has since evolved into an educator, restorative justice practitioner, entrepreneur, nonprofit founder, and author of three more books, all poetry. His latest, “Snippets of Soul, Too: Healing From Love,” was released in December 2021.

Snippets of Soul, Too is reflective of the first volume, which you released in 2017, but also feels different. The haiku are organized into a story arc with essentially three acts centered around love, loss and healing. What made you decide on this structure and what was your intention with the book?
It did not start off as such. It took shape as we started organizing the haiku into a first draft. This process had began during the pandemic when I had ample alone time to grapple with my own wounds and yearnings to heal. Prior to that, I rarely slowed down to spend enough time with myself, due to work and other things that I gave an imbalanced amount of attention to.

What made you decide to write a second volume of the Snippets of Soul series? When you wrote the first, did you know there would one day be a second? Do you have plans for a third?
Mainly, my mind tends to instinctively count syllables, and that first line of five leads to a second line of seven, then a third line of five. So I keep all of these random haiku on different devices, mainly in my notes app on my phone. I had to force myself to stop adding last minute haiku to the first volume of Snippets. So the second volume had already started — although I had no idea it would land on the themes of love and healing. I have enough haiku right now for several more volumes. It’s a matter of organizing them into what makes sense.

In a recent interview with Angela Russell for the Black Oxygen podcast, you mentioned that the narrator in Snippets of Soul is not you, but a character. I feel like with poetry we often mistakenly assume the speaker is the poet. Who is the speaker in Snippets of Soul, Too, and what are you channeling throughout? How much of this character is you, is me, is we?
Funny you bring that up. Sometimes I would post certain haiku on social media, and friends and loved ones would start checking in on me, asking if I was okay. It would feel so out of the blue until they admit to reading the haiku. Sometimes the haiku is loosely about me. Other times, it’s inspired from something I witnessed through other folx’ lived experiences or the whatnots. Same with Snippets, Too, I guess. I believe that I did consider out loud, in the Black Oxygen interview with Angela, that maybe my muse was on the low pushing me to do some mirror and heart work through the recent project. I will reflect on that some more.

You also write traditional poems, novels, essays and beats. What is it about haiku that speaks to you? What does haiku allow you to say that the other forms don’t?
Good question. Haiku is a go-to for many reasons. One is that writing haiku positions me to say a lot with a little. You have 17 syllables and that is it. I can be pretty long-winded outside of that tight structure. Writing haiku hones a transitional skill around communication, be it verbal or written. I also love the challenge it offers me. Mental stimulation. Sort of like Sudoku or other type of puzzle where you are using fragments to piece together a bigger picture. It’s one of my mindfulness practices as well. Pretty therapeutic.

Some of the poems are singular three-line haiku and others are longer poems of multiple haiku (is there a name for this?). How does a poem become what it is and how are you making those decisions?
I call the multiple haiku a series or a haiku series. That is something I made up one day, although the purist would probably beef with me about that and other liberties I take. What is poetry without liberation though? You take the original thing, understand and value it, then curve out your own moments of freedom through it.

What has the publishing journey been like for you? Why have you chosen to publish under your own “i am We” classics and how can people support your work?
I love the journey. It’s been rewarding and supported the vindication of the hope I’ve clung onto during the darkest times of my life. As you are aware, I started writing while incarcerated. Through writing I started to radically imagine overcoming my life sentence and the deep, deep despair that accompanied it. I learned to hope through the pen, and trust that what I was writing could not only keep me connected to the outside world, but also be a support in getting back out there — or back out here now. To this prophetic point, Dr. Donna Hart-Tervalon had actually read the manuscript to my first book, the novel “Shed So Many Tears,” before she ever communicated directly with me. From there, she got in touch and showed up in my struggle and went into modern day Harriet Tubman mode until the dream of freedom became a reality. She also played a pivotal role in the publication of “Shed So Many Tears” and the startup of “i am We Classics.” We collectively decided to self-publish because it made the most sense. I was still incarcerated and the big publishers tend to play really hard to get.

You recently formed the nonprofit “i am We Global Village,” an organization “committed to disrupting and dismantling the barriers and biases that prevent people from seeing each other’s full humanity.” Can you tell us more about that?
It’s in alignment with the work that I do through my consulting firm, “i am We Coaching and Mentoring, LLC.” The distinction between the two is that the nonprofit has more of a community and community organizations’ focus, while i am We Coaching and Mentoring is focused on institutional culture like education, public health, etc. The ultimate goal is to work from the inside through i am Coaching and Mentoring, and from the outside through the nonprofit, until the walls that divide the two come down and the Global Village becomes one and the same.

You endured decades of trauma in your most formative years, particularly as a young man who served 20 years of a life sentence for a crime he didn’t commit. You wrote an essay for the July 2021 issue of Madison Magazine about falling in love the written word during this time — has that love continued to evolve or change shape since your release? What parts of your evolving self are you exploring now through the literary arts? What has surprised you most about what you’re learning?
Since my release in 2015, I have not written as much as I would like. As I alluded to earlier, the pandemic offered me some much needed seclusion to re-ground and re-center. Now I am creating more time for myself to write, and that is supporting me. Writing forces me to pause, go deeper and peel and heal. I admit that I can make excuses to myself for not doing this as a way to avoid the inner work that my spirit is calling me to do.

I am not really surprised by too much. I am more so fascinated by what I continue to discover about the world and my relationship to it, and my relationship with myself. So many layers of complexity, and unlimited opportunities to lean into the complexity, and realize how the different aspects of it reflect each other. How we as human beings reflect one another..

What are you working on next?
Next up: rewriting three screenplays that i first drafted in 2002, and also finishing a volume of memoirs that I initially started in prison.

To purchase Bankston’s books and learn more about his writing, visit iamweclassics.com. For more information on i am We Global Village, visit iamweglobalvillage.org.


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