Upright ‘Citizen’

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First Posted: 11/16/2014

Poetry, like any genre of art, is meant to captivate us, create a stir of emotions so strong that we are reminded that we are all the same — bone and muscle, flesh and skin. Yet, even considering our major connections, there remains a divide among us. The divide poet and playwright, Claudia Rankine knows all too well.

In her latest collection of poetry since, “Don’t Let Me Be Lonely,” Rankine introduces, “Citizen: An American Lyric,” a collection that explores racial tensions and occurrences in Black America. The experiences described therein, are those of Rankine, friends, and media, past and present, which detail everything from blatant racism to the quiet evils of passive discrimination.

Rankine, who was raised in Kingston, Jamaica and New York City, has always had a distinct writing style. Favoring prose, Rankine’s form follows a beat rhythm with bang. The work, framed in such a way that readers are placed into a multitude of situations — our subjectivity often being put into question. Written in second-person narration, we read along as characters come face-to-face with each problematic situation. All the while, readers become onlookers, wanting to help, wanting someone to jump in, or in some cases, stay silent. Here, Rankine makes us responsible and aware, no longer ignorant of what is going around us, but rather tasks us to make a decision.

In “Citizen,” Rankine writes of the above sentiment, not knowing whether to remain quiet or say something: “You are in the dark, in the car, watching the black-tarred street being swallowed by speed; he tells you his dean is making him hire a person of color when there are so many great writers out there. / You think maybe this is an experiment and you are being tested or retroactively insulted or you have done something that communicates this is an okay conversation to be having. / Why do you feel okay saying this to me? You wish the light would turn red or a police siren would go off so you could slam on the brakes, slam into the car ahead of you, be propelled forward so quickly both your faces would suddenly be exposed to the wind.”

The poem above, much like the lot of Rankine’s collection leaves readers more conscious than ever, no longer ambivalent of what goes on outside ourselves. We do not attempt to place our differences into any one paradigm, but rather leave the structure, finding our connection free from it.

The Weekender Rating: 4.5 W’s

Word Count: 297/420