2010 Festival Poet Claudia Rankine

Posted on by Dodge

Martin Farawell, Program Director, Poetry

rankine_cClaudia Rankine will use anything and everything to make her poems. She is not limited by notions of genre, and will blur the lines between poetry, prose and theater. Her style is not restricted by any particular “school” of poetry: she absorbs what she needs from every poetic tradition that has ever spoken to her, and her work bears the mark of lyrical, modernist and language poets. Notions regarding what is appropriately elevated “poetic diction” do not seem to interest her: she will employ the language of pop culture, science and advertising as readily as that of the academy. Nor is she confined by notions of self and other: She will use the autobiographical details of her own life as well as the stories she’s absorbed from friends, family, acquaintances, history and the mass media.

The results may appear experimental at times, but it would be a misnomer to call Rankine an experimental poet. Inquisitive or investigative would be more accurate. John Dewey once defined the difference between recognizing and seeing. When we recognize something or someone, we absorb just enough of the obvious details to allow us to name or catalogue them: sister, forest, accident, neighbor. But to really see, we must stop and look beyond the familiar markers.

Claudia Rankine’s poems are attempts at this kind of seeing. But such attempts require we look long enough to see beyond our own assumptions and prejudices. Because she is willing to take this time, her poems tend to spread out into extended explorations and meditations. In the case of her collection, The End of the Alphabet, each poem expands into several sections. In Don’t Let Me Be Lonely, although the individual sections can stand on their own, this book-length poem builds like an extended dramatic monologue. The thread of the speaker’s thought–intellectual, personal, philosophical and political–is as suspenseful to follow as the plot of a mystery novel. It is Rankine’s own curiosity, and the power of her need to understand, that compels the reader.

Claudia Rankine’s most recent collection is Plot, published in 2007. For a biograghy of Claudia Rankine and audio recordings of her reading, visit the Academy of American Poets Claudia Rankine page.

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Return in the weeks ahead as we continue to profile the 2010 Festival Poets.

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