February 28, 2015KR BlogBlogEnthusiamsReading

Citizen Alert

It feels as if everyone who’s teaching a poetry class this semester is teaching Claudia Rankine’s Citizen. (I’m sure it’s being taught in nonfiction courses, as well; it’s been nominated for a National Book Critics Circle Award in both poetry and criticism.) Just as #blacklivesmatter was 2014’s word of the year (according to the American Dialect Society, and to anyone who was paying attention), Citizen was 2014’s poetry book of the year—it generated the most response, the most discussion. The hashtag and Rankine’s title do similar work: they challenge assumptions, making each of us reconsider how we’ve calibrated those degrees of mattering, those degrees of citizenship. Rankine reflects on micro-aggressions (“You are in the dark, in the car, watching the black-tarred street being swallowed by speed; he tells you his dean is making him hire a person of color when there are so many great writers out there”) and macro-aggressions (“February 26, 2012 / In Memory of Trayvon Martin” imagines the murdered teenager’s final phone call: “Wait with me. Wait with me though the waiting might be the call of good-byes”). I’m teaching Citizen in my poetry workshop soon; I’m wondering what my students will make of it.

As a kind of small public service, I thought I’d round up two handfuls of reviews, essays, and videos that might prove useful to those who are teaching (or reading, or thinking about reading) Citizen. The list is certainly incomplete; I’d love to see more links added in the comments box.

* Cyrus Cassells describes Rankine as “an inventive, heroic, and true daughter of James Baldwin” in The Washington Spectator.

* Dan Chiasson reviews Citizen in The New Yorker, calling it “a vital book for this moment in time.”

* Meg Shevenock offers a thoughtful piece about Rankine’s conception of the body on this blog.

* Holly Bass reviews Citizen in The New York Times Book Review.

* Jonathan Farmer discusses, in Slate, the ways in which Rankine’s 2011 AWP speech informs parts of Citizen.

* Katy Waldman writes, also in Slate, about the changes Rankine has made between the book’s first edition and its third.

* At Blackbird, you can watch one of Rankine’s video collaborations with her husband, John Lucas. This one explores Zinedine Zidane’s head-butting of Marco Materazzi in the 2006 World Cup.

* Vimeo has another collaboration between Rankine and Lucas: “Situation #6” (called, in Citizen, “Stop-and-Frisk”).

* If you were struck (as I was) by the first photograph in Citizen, Michael David Murphy’s “Jim Crow Rd.,” you can find more of the artist’s work at his website.

* Finally, here’s a video of Rankine discussing Citizen with Tavis Smiley.