Claudia Rankine: Wednesday

Reminder: Claudia Rankine will be on campus this Wednesday (March 17). I am trading our class time (we won’t meet at 10.30) for the opportunity to see this writer later in the day. You have one of two chances (or both) to see her at the Lit House: at 3pm for a discussion with students; at 4.30 for a public reading. Though I am not requiring attendance, I ask you to let me know if you can’t make either one of these.

For more on Rankine, see Mark Nowak’s recent posting on the Lit House blog. He identifies an interesting feature of her book–the range and richness of her sources, from King Lear to “Murder, She Wrote.”

In addition to being very interested in her sources, in the ways she uses as material a wide range of ideas and artifacts from her culture–yet again, a good example of metonymy for us to consider–I also take note of the ways she focuses on complexity and simplicity. She expresses a concern that America has, post 9/11 (and I think this is very much, as we see, a post 9/11 autobiography) lost its ability to be complex (p. 91). And the ways she, in her writing, refuses to let complexity be lost or simplified, washed out, is to focus on the meaning of a word such as sad (p. 108). There is complexity in simplicity. Notice how this complexity emerges when she slows down–doesn’t change the channel or divert our attention.

A couple passages that stood out to me from this interview, where she discusses Don’t Let Me Be Lonely. She offers some insights, in particular, to ways that the  multi-media aspects of the book where important to her. You might keep these in mind, and look through the interview, when turning your attention to the second writing project.

In some of my earlier books, I experimented with ways to keep the text open. I was invested, perhaps crudely, in communicating the fact that the poem is a process without resolution. In order for me to begin, I need to come up with a form that accommodates an investigative poetics. For instance, the introduction of images in Don’t Let Me Be Lonely was an attempt to acknowledge a total experience of being – to involve as many of our senses as possible.

All writing is a kind of performance, but modes that fabricate closure seem less authentic to me. When I was working on The End of the Alphabet, for example, which was in my mind about silence, about a darkness that felt crippling, the language had to be very different from the language in something like Don’t Let Me Be Lonely, which is interested in mediated responses, the media, and the clarity or lack of clarity around our own connectedness.

I wanted the notes to destabilize the text further – they make the book messier, and I like that. I’m not interested in creating anything that contributes to the fiction of wholeness; instead, I continue to try to find a mode that can accommodate without pretending to transcend, that manages to stay in the mess and continue an exploration of thought in the imagination.

Rankine might be associated with a kind of poetics that has been named L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E: poets intensively focused on the language of poetry in various ways; this extends into things such as prose poetry and a kind of poetry that resists traditional definitions of what is poetic.

On the other hand, as she would point out, that is just another label; she’s a poet, at heart.