Heartache and joy behind Salvation Army officer’s book of poetry
published on 21 Apr 2017
Inspired by his mother and written in memory of his late wife, Salvation Army officer Commissioner Keith Banks has published a book of poetry about life, love, loss and laughter.
Commissioner Keith, who is the chaplain at Glasgow Airport, began writing poems in his thirties as a way of journaling personal moments in his life. Now 74, the father of two from Inverclyde has gathered a selection of his writings together in a book called Contentment.
It was his mother Muriel’s gift for writing poetry that prompted the Salvation Army stalwart and devout Christian to follow suit.
“Her playful writing impressed me”, he recalls. “I remember laughing with her about the things she had written. My mum derived endless pleasure from perfecting her art.
“I started to do the same, although my verses were far less amusing than hers. I had an inclination to write more seriously but I have no doubt that the desire to do so sprang from the love of crafting words that my mother had given to me.”
During his life as a Salvation Army officer, Commissioner Keith has worked as the Officer Commanding for the church and charity in Papa New Guinea and Chief Secretary in Japan, as well as being the International Secretary for Personnel at the organisation’s International Headquarters in London.
Despite being officially retired as an officer, Commissioner Keith continues to remain active and has been the chaplain at Glasgow Airport since 2009. He leads the Salvation Army’s chaplaincy team at the airport and works alongside his assistants Captain Stephen Baker and Jim McDonald, a volunteer from Govan Salvation Army. Throughout his book, Commissioner Keith undernotes many of his poems with the stories and secrets that shaped them. He reveals that he wrote Over There just hours after scattering the remains of his wife Pauline, who died in 2008.
The day she died
My eyes were drawn
To ‘over there’.
A fragile yacht
Moved with the wind
To that isle where
The grass is lush,
The sky aglow
With mottled glare.
A perfect place,
Thought I whose mind
Was numb with grief,
For my sweet love
To gently merge
With sand and leaf.
--An extract from Over There
“At the time I could see the Isle of Cumbrae from my home”, he remembers. “The day before Pauline’s funeral, I sat looking at the island and contemplated matters of life, death and life after death. The sky over behind the island was beautiful and a yacht sailed into the distance. For me heaven was on the other side of the island. So that’s where my daughter Alison and I scattered Pauline’s earthly remains. Over there.”
Emotionally poignant throughout, Commissioner Keith’s book is also filled with happy memories and moments of humour that his mum would surely have been proud of. In one poem called Say it Again he writes about a friend, seated behind him in a car, who never seems to hear things first time.
I say it long, I say it clear;
And then a voice comes from the rear,
‘Say it again’.
I take a breath,
I roll my eyes
With not a flicker of surprise.
‘Say it again’.
Not once, or twice or thrice, but more;
I’ve heard it many times before;
‘Say it again’.
--An extract from Say it Again
Commissioner Keith reveals that the ideas behind his poems are rooted in all aspect of his life. “It could be a deep emotion”, he says. “A person, something someone says, an object, the beauty of nature. Anything.”
Anyone who knows the commissioner will hardly be surprised by his latest literary work. In fact, he has written the lyrics for many Salvation Army songs and even a few Salvation Army stage musicals. In 2015 he wrote the lyrics for a musical performed in LA and London to mark the 150th year of The Salvation Army. Even though he is officially a retired officer, Commissioner Keith also recently finished writing the lyrics to 10 songs for a musical in LA later this year.
Contentment is an impressive collection of revealing and moving poems that have been beautifully illustrated by fellow retired officer Lieutenant Colonel Lucille Turfrey. The book has been published by the Salvation Army’s International Headquarters and is available from Salvationist Publishing and Supplies Ltd, Amazon, or direct from Commissioner Keith by Facebook message or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
The cost of the book is £4 and every penny goes to support the work of the Salvation Army. Postage and packing is £1 if ordered directly from Commissioner Keith for UK delivery.