Spare. Raw. Seething. Claudia Rankine’s newest collection of poetry, “Citizen: An American Lyric”, is a hard-hitting, eye-opening piece of work. As the cover art undeniably reflects, “Citizen” is a work of the moment – a time when America is faced with its ugly truths and the lingering ravages of racism.
Though, in truth, this work could have been written at any other time in our nation’s troubled history, perhaps its deserved success is partly a product of the heightened awareness and the jarring recurrence of racial violence.
A time when a national movement must state the obvious – Black Lives Matter. But also, I hope, a time when the broader audience may finally be ready to listen. This year’s National Book Award finalists featured at least two works by outspoken black writers explicitly addressing white privilege and racism – Claudia Rankine’s “Citizen” and Ta-nehisi Coates’ “Between the World and Me”. Such widespread accolades and popular acclaim must surely, surely suggest that we can start to wake as a nation.
“You like to think memory goes far back though remembering was never recommended. Forget all that, the world says. The world’s had a lot of practice. No one should adhere to the facts that contribute to narrative, the facts that create lives. To your mind, feelings are what create a person, something unwilling, something wild vandalizing whatever the skull holds. Those sensations form a someone. The headaches begin then. Don’t wear sunglasses in the house, the world says, though they soothe, soothe sight, soothe you.…
The world is wrong. You can’t put the past behind you. It’s buried in you; it’s turned your flesh into its own cupboard. Not everything remembered is useful but it all comes from the world to be stored in you. Who did what to whom on which day? Who said that? She said what? What did he just do? Did she really just say that? He said what? What did she do? Did I hear what I think I heard? Did that just come out of my mouth, his mouth, your mouth? Do you remember when you sighed?”