There was a time I could say no one I knew well had died. This is not to suggest no one died. When I was eight my mother became pregnant. She went to the hospital to give birth and returned without the baby. Where’s the baby? we asked. Did she shrug? She was the kind of woman who liked to shrug; deep within her was an everlasting shrug. That didn’t seem like a death. The years went by and people only died on television—if they weren’t Black, they were wearing black or were terminally ill. Then I returned home from school one day and saw my father sitting on the steps of our home. He had a look that was unfamiliar; it was flooded, so leaking. I climbed the steps as far away from him as I could get. He was breaking or broken. Or, to be more precise, he looked to me like someone understanding his aloneness. Loneliness. His mother was dead. I’d never met her. It meant a trip back home for him. When he returned he spoke neither about the airplane nor the funeral.
Claudia Rankine, Don’t Let Me Be Lonely
Interviewer to poet
‘You make work in private, but once it goes public, readers make it their own. They define the work—and, by extension, you—in terms of who they are, what they want or believe. ‘
David L. Ulin, interviewing poet Claudia Rankine, The Paris Review The Art of Poetry No. 102
The new therapist specializes in trauma counselling. You have only ever spoken on the phone. Her house has a side gate that leads to a back entrance she uses for patients. You walk down a path bordered on both sides with deer grass and rosemary to the gate, which turns out to be locked.
“At the front door, the bell is a small round disc that you press firmly. When the door finally opens, the woman standing there yells, at the top of her lungs, Get away from my house! What are you doing in my yard? … you manage to tell her you have an appointment. You have an appointment? she spits back. Then she pauses. Everything pauses. Oh, she says, followed by oh, yes, that’s right. I am sorry.
I am so sorry, so, so sorry.
Claudia Rankine, Citizen
[CLaudia ] Rankine, born in Jamaica and raised in Kingston and New York, is blunt and thoughtful, not unlike her work. In conversation, she leans forward, speaking slowly, often pausing to consider the most useful phrase or word. This, we might say, is the poet in her; she was recently elected a chancellor of the Academy of American Poets. At the same time, her writing challenges such expectations, blurring the lines of not only form but also content, requiring us to think of poetry anew.
‘Poet Claudia Rankine ruminates on the body politic in ‘Citizen’,
. . . what makes writing challenging and interesting. How do you get the work to arrive at readers in a way that allows them to stay with it and not immediately dismiss it? It’s something I think about, because I know I’m also writing for people who don’t always hold my positions. It’s not that I think white people are my only audience. It’s that I think of America as my audience, and inside that space are white people as well as people of color. Some white people still believe that white privilege and white mobility are the universal position. If a writer has different experience of the world, the work is no longer seen as transcendent or universal. So as I’m moving around in a piece, I am hearing all those voices in opposition.
Claudia Rankine, interview The Paris Review December 2016