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Recorded at the Chancellors Reading, Poets Forum 2015. NYU Skirball Center. New York City.

About this poet

Born in Jamaica in 1963, Claudia Rankine earned her BA in English from Williams College and her MFA in poetry from Columbia University.

She is the author of five collections of poetry: Citizen: An American Lyric (Graywolf Press, 2014), which received the 2016 Rebekah Johnson Bobbitt Book Prize for Poetry and the 2014 National Book Critics Circle Award in Poetry; Don't Let Me Be Lonely: An American Lyric (Graywolf Press, 2004); PLOT (Grove Press, 2001); The End of the Alphabet (Grove Press, 1998); and Nothing in Nature is Private (Cleveland State University Poetry Center, 1995), which received the Cleveland State Poetry Prize.

Rankine has edited numerous anthologies, including American Women Poets in the Twenty-First Century: Where Lyric Meets Language (Wesleyan University Press, 2002) and American Poets in the Twenty-First Century: The New Poetics (Wesleyan University Press, 2007). Her plays include Provenance of Beauty: A South Bronx Travelogue, commissioned by the Foundry Theatre and Existing Conditions, co-authored with Casey Llewellyn. She has also produced a number of videos in collaboration with John Lucas, including "Situation One."

Of her book Don't Let Me Be Lonely: An American Lyric, an experimental multi-genre project that blends poetry, essays, and images, poet Robert Creeley said: "Claudia Rankine here manages an extraordinary melding of means to effect the most articulate and moving testament to the bleak times we live in I've yet seen. It's master work in every sense, and altogether her own."

In 2013, Rankine was elected a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets. Mark Doty has praised her selection, saying: "Claudia Rankine's formally inventive poems investigate many kinds of boundaries: the unsettled territory between poetry and prose, between the word and the visual image, between what it's like to be a subject and the ways we're defined from outside by skin color, economics, and global corporate culture. This fearless poet extends American poetry in invigorating new directions."

Her honors include the Jackson Poetry Prize, as well as fellowships from the Lannan Foundation and the National Endowments for the Arts. In 2005, Rankine was awarded the Academy Fellowship for distinguished poetic achievement by the Academy of American Poets. In 2016, Rankine was awarded a MacArthur "Genius" Grant and named a United States Artists Zell fellow in literature. She is currently a Frederick Iseman Professor of Poetry at Yale University.


Selected Bibliography

Citizen: An American Lyric (Graywolf Press, 2014)
Don't Let Me Be Lonely: An American Lyric (Graywolf Press, 2004)
PLOT (Grove Press, 2001)
The End of the Alphabet (Grove Press, 1998)
Nothing in Nature is Private (Cleveland State University Poetry Center, 1995)

from Citizen, V [Sometimes "I" is supposed to hold what is not there]

Sometimes “I” is supposed to hold what is not there until it is.
Then what comes apart the closer you are to it.

This makes the first person a symbol for something.

The pronoun barely holding the person together.

Someone claimed we should use our skin as wallpaper knowing we couldn’t win.

You said “I” has so much power; it’s insane.

And you would look past me, all gloved up, in a big coat, with fancy fur around the collar, and record a self saying, you should be scared, the first person can’t pull you together.

Shit, you are reading minds, but did you try?

Tried rhyme, tried truth, tried epistolary untruth, tried and tried.

You really did. Everyone understood you to be suffering and still everyone thought you thought you were the sun—never mind our unlikeness, you too have heard the noise in your voice.

Anyway, sit down. Sit here alongside.

Exactly why we survive and can look back with furrowed brow is beyond me.

It is not something to know.

Your ill-spirited, cooked, hell on Main Street, nobody’s here, broken-down, first person could be one of many definitions of being to pass on.

The past is a life sentence, a blunt instrument aimed at tomorrow.

Drag that first person out of the social death of history, then we’re kin.

Kin calling out the past like a foreigner with a newly minted “fuck you.”

Maybe you don’t agree.

Maybe you don’t think so.

Maybe you are right, you don’t really have anything to confess.

Why are you standing?

Listen, you, I was creating a life study out of a monumental first person, a Brahmin first person.

If you need to feel that way—still you are in here and here is nowhere.

Join me down here in nowhere.

Don’t lean against the wallpaper; sit down and pull together.

Yours is a strange dream, a strange reverie.

No, it’s a strange beach; each body is a strange beach, and if you let in the excess emotion you will recall the Atlantic Ocean breaking on our heads.

From Citizen (Graywolf Press, 2014). Copyright © 2014 by Claudia Rankine. Used with permission of the author. 

From Citizen (Graywolf Press, 2014). Copyright © 2014 by Claudia Rankine. Used with permission of the author. 

Claudia Rankine

Claudia Rankine

Born in Jamaica in 1963, Claudia Rankine is the author of five collections of poetry, including Citizen: An American Lyric (Graywolf Press, 2014), which received the 2014 National Book Critics Circle Award in Poetry. She currently serves as a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets.

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A woman you do not know wants to join you for lunch. You are visiting her campus. In the café you both order the Caesar salad. This overlap is not the beginning of anything because she immediately points out that she, her father, her grandfather, and you, all attended the same college.