Citizen: An American Lyric
By Claudia Rankine
Winner of the Forward Prize for Best Collection 2015 and National Book Critics Circle Award for Poetry 2015, this book examines the experience of race and racism in Western society through sharp vignettes of everyday discrimination and prejudice, which has impacted the lives of Serena Williams, Zinedine Zidane, Mark Duggan and others.Tweet
When considering my books of the year for 2015, Citizen stood out like a beacon. A powerful clarion call to sit up and take notice of America's past and present of racial inequality, and an invocation to consider the shocking reality of discrimination, this incredible lyric essay also plays on form and makes us consider what poetry really is. In her brilliant speech accepting the Forward Prize for Best Collection, Claudia Rankine said 'Poetry is the realm of feeling. A poem is a space where a feeling can be felt back.' Citizen demonstrates just how feeling, form and words can work in beautiful, unsettling harmony.
This got me thinking in all sorts of ways. Maybe I'm racist? Maybe I'm not as well informed as I thought I was? It made me re-examine behaviour of my own and be appalled and made to cringe by the events described. It was shocking and thought provoking. The illustrations gave extra weight to a powerful piece of work that acts to target what is such a massive issue. I felt it could have been called The News Behind the News because it gave a sense of where society stands.
I read this book for my reading group and I'm very glad that I did. I wouldn't ordinarily choose a book of this style but I found it surprisingly easily to read. I also enjoyed the artworks through out. I would describe this book more as an extended essay with some poetic writing rather than poetry as such. The topic is what it is to be black in America, a very different experience to that in the UK I would imagine.
I would recommend this book even if only for the chapter on Selena Williams which was very thought provoking
This book had an air of menace throughout which was intimidating as a reader but necessary to highlight the plight of the groups identified. The individual detailed accounts of the citizen’s experience describe the subtleties of the daily abuse and inner feelings. The format proved distracting at times and often prevented the flow of reading, yet the use of illustration throughout added to the overall ethos of the book. There was a general feeling that the scripts in the last section seemed a bit misplaced.