Nowadays, more and more poets are starting to experiment with the possibilities of language. For example, some of them mix prose and poetry or create new genres in literature. Undoubtedly, the genre diversity and the formation of new departments of literature is a significant part of modern writing, but the meaning embedded in the written works is more important. The quality of the writing language is sometimes not as valuable as the message that the author wants to convey. Novelists create ideal books by combining innovative ideas, high-quality text, and critical internal thought.
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Social literature, which reveals the acute problems of society and calls for their resolution, becomes more popular each day. One of the representatives of modern social poetry is Claudia Rankine, who creates her works in the genre on the verge of research journalism and social poetry. The poet in her lyrics describes acute social problems, such as various discrimination, racism, and sexism. Claudia Rankine’s writing is highly artistic poetry in which the poet adds features of multiple genres and reveals the urgent problems of society; moreover, the author bases her poetry on personal experience, which makes it closer to the reader.
Claudia Rankine was born in Jamaica in 1963 and raised in Kingston, and at the age of seven, her family moved to the Bronx, New York, where her father got a doctor’s job, and her mother became a nurse. Since childhood, the writer saw that her mother was fond of poetry and even memorized poems at school. The first poem that the girl learned and remembered was Emily Dickinson’s Because I Could Not Stop for Death. Claudia mentioned that her parents doubted her choice of the profession since she was a child of immigrants, and in general, the occupation of a poet was not paid high (Cocozza, 2015). However, she received a bachelor’s degree in English from Williams College and her Master of Fine Arts in poetry from Columbia University.
After earning a poetry master, Claudia got her first teaching job, and her parents were no longer worried that she would be left without money. Since then, Claudia Rankine has written many books, including Citizen: An American Lyric, Don’t Let Me Be Lonely: An American Lyric; The End of the Alphabet; Nothing in Nature is Private and much more. In 2013, Rankine was elected as a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets. Undoubtedly, Claudia Rankine made a considerable contribution to the development of modern poetry and literature in general and also continues to be active in the fight against racism.
Claudia Rankine’s Poetry
Claudia Rankine’s poetry sounds unshakable and stable, no matter how sharp the subject of discussion. She can equally confidently write about alienation or intimacy, and the problems of racism and discrimination. Regarding the genre of her works, there is an opinion that the author writes using rhetorical methods of transmitting information, but practices poetic means such as using the present tense, alliteration, epithets, and many others (Dow & Maguire, 2019). Such a mixture of methods leads, respectively, to a combination of genres, so Claudia Rankine combines journalism and poetry in her works, thus approaching ordinary readers unfamiliar with high complex novels.
One of the most famous works of Claudia Rankine is Citizen. This book recounts incidents of everyday racism and calls them out. In this work, the author has collected cases of daily racism encountered by her friends and family members. For example, the publication presents the case when a man jumps the queue in a pharmacy because he “didn’t see” the black person ahead of him. Citizen is a challenging piece of work, inviting self-examination in a spirit of cooperation. The episodes that Claudia collected from her life and the lives of people who are close to her reflect all the imperfections of modern society, in which situations that are offensive to people of color may seem like a joke to white people.
Don’t Let Me Be Lonely
Award-winning poet Claudia Rankine explores the personal and political unrest of a volatile modern century. Rankine is well-known for her experimental multi-genre writing, which combines lyrics and essays. In this politically and morally harsh study of loneliness in a dangerous and media-driven attack on a person, she describes the unpleasant realities of the modern world. With intelligence and ingenuity, Rankine strives for clarity of thought and imagination and argues that the recognition of others is the only salvation for the nation, its art, and the government. Don’t Let Me Be Lonely is a new extraordinary confrontation with a culture whose voice deep down is puzzled by its inadequacy in the face of racial discrimination, terrorist attacks, drug-induced depression, and the antagonism of television that we will not leave people alone.
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In addition to the topic of racism and discrimination, the poet raises the issue of self-identification, both national, which was influenced by the origin of the author, and gender, as this is an acute social problem. Moreover, Claudia recalls various events, such as the shooting at Charleston, in which people belonging to discriminated groups (LGBTQ+ community, people of color, women, and others) were killed or injured.
Claudia Rankine’s Fight Against Racism
Even though the author considers many different problems and topics, the central theme passing through the whole work of Claudia Rankine and her life is racism and, of course, the fight against it. In one of her works, Claudia Rankine describes the difficulties that black people face every day. It is an article in which she talks about the fact that people of color always have to deal with discrimination, and nevertheless, they cannot leave America since they have a whole life settled up here.
Whenever a black person goes outside, it can be the last day for him only because he is of the wrong color, as some people assume. The author claims that the white liberal population is not fully aware of the whole tragedy of deaths due to racism, so she writes that for some time, white mourn such losses, but do not consider them to be something significant (Rankine, 2015). Life in a country like America involves the everyday deaths of black people, who unfortunately are not even considered out of the ordinary, it just happens, and it is a part of everyday life.
Claudia calls for advocating for the rights of black people since it is dangerous for these selves to go to rallies and protests since an aggressive position gives imaginary permission to militarize the society. Unwritten prohibitions related to skin color are also a problem in the modern world; for example, black people are condemned for loud music, hands in pockets, or other trifles. The author is confident that despite the rapid development of society, such problems remain relevant until white Americans are ready to rewrite their cruel history.
Claudia Rankine notes that calls for blacks to “behave in a civilian way” or similar groundless restrictions only prove racism that exists nowadays. Moreover, the poet claims that people of color try to protect themselves from places where they may face discrimination. For example, she describes the situation when there is free space in the train next to a black man, but people remain standing even though the man calmly looks out the window (Carter, 2017). Claudia notes that a black man most likely would have preferred to sit alone than to hear unproven accusations later. The author states that staying private in public is one of the foremost ways to protect themselves from aggressive racism that color people often encounter. Furthermore, Claudia Rankine views racism and other forms of discrimination as a way of degradation and depletion of mental resources (Hume, 2016). She compares the depletion of personality and the exhaustion of natural resources and writes with the hope that humanity will be able to restore both areas.
Thus, the contribution of Claudia Rankine to contemporary poetry is invaluable. She mixes genres and forms new directions in literature; moreover, the author raises such social problems that many writers try to avoid or give them a more innocuous form. Despite the possible aggressive reaction of the white part of the nation, she is not shy about expressing her opinion firmly. The contribution of this poetess was appreciated in 2016 when Claudia became the winner of MacArthur Fellows Programs. She spent the award on the foundation of The Racial Imaginary Institute. Claudia founded this institute so that international artists could fight the problem of racism around the world using shared resources.
Carter, J. (2017). Being private in public: Claudia Rankine and John Lucas’s “situation” videos. Multidisciplinary Peer-Reviewed Journal on the English-speaking World, 14, 1920–1940. Web.
Cocozza, P. (2018). Poet Claudia Rankine: “The invisibility of black women is astounding”. The Guardian. Web.
Dow, W. E., & Maguire, R. S. (2019). The Routledge companion to American literary journalism. Routledge.
Hume, A. (2016). Toward an antiracist ecopoetics: Waste and wasting in the poetry of Claudia Rankine. Contemporary Literature, 57(1), 79–110.
Rankine, C. (2015). The condition of black life is one of mourning. The New York Times Magazine. Web.