Citizen: A Book Review

I was introduced to Claudia Rankine’s Citizen: An American Lyric in an Experimental Forms writing class. We were given an excerpt of Citizen and told to mock the prose/poetry style used by Rankine. I found myself intrigued by poetry that was more than iambic pentameter. I didn’t know poetry could exist or tell a story in the way it does when Rankine writes it. It was this unusual form that inspired the essay White Spaces in my memoir collection.  Rankine orders her words in a way that captures the rhythmic beauty of poetry without isolating the reader with abstractions that might make the work inaccessible or off-putting. She pairs words with strategic imagery that influences recall and adds an extra element of exploration and understanding to the reader’s interaction with the book.

We as a modern society are so heavily entrenched in the things that we see and the sounds that we hear from different media outlets. We live our lives online and on the idiot box. Rankine tells of her experiences and her experience of other people’s experiences. In doing so, she allows the reader to actively engage in the work. When she references Serena Williams, I am not only experiencing the matter with and through Rankine but reliving the moment myself. Where was I when? Now that I have a new context in which to view the matter how does that influence the way I experience it in “rememory” (as Toni Morrison would say). How does it change the way I experience life moving forward?

I purchased Citizen twice–first in e-book format and then in print. I love the convenience of an e-book, but the e-book translation of Citizen pales in comparison to the printed version due to the image-rich nature of the book. There is a handy index in the book that cites the artwork and media content referenced throughout the book. Part of the delightful experience of reading this book is digging deeper and discovering the artists she connects her words to (Glenn Ligon’s work blows me away).

If you haven’t already, you should get to know Claudia Rankine. You can buy the book on Amazon or through her very eclectic and interactive website. Don’t forget to check the index.