Books

Summer is almost over, but there's still time for one more summer read. I'd recommend Claudia Rankine's "Citizen: An American Lyric." It's a winner of the Jackson Prize for Poetry.

Outrage is so often accompanied by loud, strident voices, angry invective and visions of unruly mobs.

But what if the outrage is heartfelt, keenly observed, meticulously documented yet delivered in the softest of voices, stunning and lyrical language? What if it is delivered in evocative, intensely moving, witty and memorable poetry?

Such is the case with "Citizen: An American Lyric," which was published last fall and available from major booksellers.

In this remarkable work, Rankine explores the incendiary issues of racial dynamics at play today in America. She calls for conversations on race, white privilege, a discriminatory justice system and disenfranchisement, particularly of young, black males.

For those black males, she insists, the concept of citizenship has other rules and expectations.

The poet doesn’t claim that racism is universal, but that it is subjective and personal. Acts of everyday racism — glances, remarks, implied judgments — are presented in a weave of lyric with unbearable realities.

"Citizen" is remarkable for both its style and content.

Stylistically, the work travels over varied terrain moving from verse to prose together, with carefully chosen visuals that collide with clever wordplays.

Rankine — a professor of poetry and creative writing at Pomona College — asks that we put ourselves in the poet’s position and to share her stories, which are about people she knows personally and professionally. By doing so we become both observer and participant in the process of victimization.

As the poet says, “The feeling sets heavily on the heart.”

"Citizen" is, as another book reviewer noted, “A book vital for this moment in time.”

This moment being especially incendiary since the topic of racism is a daily part of news broadcasts in all major American cities.

Rankine’s intense sensitivity to the incredibly complex aspects of the present situation reinforces her primary intention, which is clearly to help us understand the ways we encounter and fail each other.

With understanding, one hopes, there comes the possibility of change.

Her wish seems to be that, somehow, even with the racism within and around us, we each stay awake to ourselves and one another. She challenges us to regain our sense of innate humanity.

As another famous writer once said in an entirely different context, but entirely appropriate here, "‘Tis a consummation devoutly to be wished.”

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