PJAS 11 Autumn-9

Jerzy Kamionowski
“Make It News”: Racist (Micro)Aggressions, the Lyrical You, and Increased Legibility in Claudia Rankine’s Citizen: An American Lyric
Polish Journal for American Studies, vol. 11 (Autumn 2017), pp. 365-376


Claudia Rankin’s Citizen: An American Lyric (2014) is a perplexing work both because of its unusual presentation of the issue of racism in America and the original formal ways through which its message is communicated. It is formally innovative and technically experimental in an ‘average reader’-friendly manner, situating itself a world apart from the poetics of “deliberate illegibility” and “increased interruption.” By communicating its message directly, it is almost a poem with a purpose, yet it makes categories travel. The subtitle emphasizes Citizen‘s belonging in the generic tradition of the lyric despite the fact that the lyrical “I” remains almost non-existent here; instead, the poem draws on extensive implementation of apostrophe?related to Butler’s concept of “addressability.” Also the phrase “American lyric” situates Rankin’s book outside of the well-established categories of black lyrical poetry whose essential feature is its connection with black musical form of the blues. Citizen can be classified as a prose-poem essay, yet its sociological orientation and emphasis on poetic form’s and language’s capacities to inform, instruct, emotionally move, and morally engage the reader go together with activating more ‘conventionally experimental’ strategies as it merges the verbal, visual, and performance arts, using photographs, TV programmes, film frames, “situation videos,” installations, and conceptual art. The article explores those issues, demonstrating how formal innovation may serve the purpose of reaching a relatively wide audience and make poetry matter within the field of current public debate on important social and cultural problems.

Keywords: Claudia Rankine, addressability, blackness, discrimination, (il)legibility

DOI: 10.7311/PJAS.11/2/2017.09

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