Whether writing about intimacy or alienation, Claudia Rankine’s voice is one of unflinching and unrelenting candor. Her work stretches the conventions of genre as it challenges those of society. Michael Palmer praises her ability to “mobilize the narrative power of prose and the transrational logic of poetry to create a work of singular courage, lucidity, and imaginative force.” Intensely personal and deeply felt, her poems struggle with the challenge of creating wholeness in a fragmented world. “The writing,” says Lyn Hejinian, “never summarizes or reduces these to simples, leaving them instead in the full complexity in which they are encountered.”
Born in Kingston, Jamaica and educated at Williams College and Columbia University, Claudia Rankine is the author of four collections of poetry, including the award-winning Nothing in Nature is Private. In the volumes that follow, The End of the Alphabet and Plot, she courts paradox and confronts discontinuity, welding the cerebral and the spiritual, the sensual and the grotesque. Charles Bernstein called Plot “an unsettling poetry of the body wrestling itself in the making of thought.”
Rankine’s latest work, Don’t Let Me Be Lonely – which bears the subtitle “An American Lyric,” but which the author refers to as prose fiction – is an experimental and deeply personal exploration of the condition of fragmented selfhood in contemporary America. Jorie Graham celebrates the book’s “raw political courage and aesthetic bravery . . . sad, funny, smart, tart, nuanced, blunt: one can only say thank you to such a poet.”
Rankine’s work has appeared in The Boston Review, jubilat, The Kenyon Review, and numerous other journals. She also co-edited the anthology American Women Poets in the 21st Century: Where Lyric Meets Language. She has taught at Barnard College and the University of Georgia, and currently teaches in the writing program at the University of Houston.
Poetry Center Reading:
[“As if I craved error, as if love was ahistorical”]
As if I craved error, as if love was ahistorical,
I came to live in a country not at first my own
and here came to love a man not stopped by reticence.
And because it seemed right
love of this man would look like freedom,
the lone expanse of his back
would be found land, I turned,
as a brown field turns, suddenly grown green,
for this was the marriage waited for: the man
desiring as I, movement toward mindful and yet.
It was June, brilliant. The sun higher than God.
An excerpt of “Testimonial” from THE END OF THE ALPHABET (Grove Press, 1998)
[“What we live”]
What we live
before the life is turned off
is what prevents the light from being turned off.
In the marrow, in the nerve, in nightgowned exhaustion,
to secure the heart,
hoping my intention whole, I leave nothing
behind, drag nakedness to the brisker air of the garden.
What the sweeper has not swept gathers
to delay all my striving. But here I arrive
with the first stars: the flame in each
hanging like a trophy in the lull just before
the hours, those antagonists
that haunt and confiscate
what the hardware of slumber draws below.
An excerpt of “The quotidian” from THE END OF THE ALPHABET (Grove Press, 1998)
The Room is a Fountain in Experience
Though a previousness, cushioned by dark, aggregates the room
(for there is no disparity),
a room is brought into existence, the activity of—
Here Liv is letting herself feel as she feels, her will yielding to
streams, the lyric field of her everyday depths.
Her presence is. It’s come along, is lost, is loss, is wallside
reconciling: can I love now please?
Or in inclusion she bursts into a hood of tenderness: the body’s
anguish and flesh and all reflected in the absorbed atmosphere
soaking her being,
then the self feels deeper the depicted insistence engaged, its
essential nest, its scape—
And always and each contiguous thought, approaching the
distance, augments. Viewed against, the mind reshapes and here
is refuge without its tent.
All that’s resolved plots against her dividing self, binding her as
if any intervening space is recess for
her grave, an equivalence overlaying presence. Can I love now
From PLOT (Grove Press, 2001)