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This report is taken from PN Review 228, Volume 42 Number 4, March - April 2016.

On Reading Claudia Rankine

You Are in a Long-Distance Citizenship with You
Vahni Capildeo
The crystalline aggregation of ‘microaggressions’ in Claudia Rankine’s Citizen, like a lump of geological fact, fits no human palm without spiking it somewhere. Analysis, witness, lament: the book is seamed with these modes, not composed of any one of them. It amasses its material and shifts points of view without offering settlement. In her reading at the T. S. Eliot Prize event, Rankine enjoins the audience to listen to the pronouns; to excavate the archaeology of ‘I’ and ‘you’. Excavation would place the reader outside the poem, standing on its field of buried dreams and salient leaves of grass, spade in hand. However, such outsider privilege is disallowed by Rankine’s communicative strategies within the text. The book’s frequent pronoun-rich passages invite the reader to read him or herself into what is going on. What happens then?

Consider this excerpt, which was assigned for creative response in the 2015 T. S. Eliot Prize for Poetry Writing Competitions:

IN LINE AT THE DRUGSTORE...

In line at the drugstore it’s finally your turn, and then it’s not as he walks in front of you and puts his things on the counter. The cashier says, Sir, she was next. When he turns to you he is truly surprised.

Oh my God, I didn’t see you.

You must be in a hurry, you offer.

No, no, no, I really didn’t see you.

The first line places the reader within the anxious echo-chamber skull of someone engaged in ...


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