Making a Statement
I would like to clarify something in one of my earlier posts (“Oscar Bait,” for the folks keeping track at home) where I talked about judging and picking art in competitions: I wholeheartedly believe there is objectivism to it. There is no doubt that a winner shows a smart, honest, and inspiring artistic message that shows evidence of skilled craftmanship and touching its audience. My original point that I tried to convey was that at this stage (be it the National Book Award or Oscars), the field is so loaded with excellent, well-made, and touching works of art. These works are so good that it is insanely hard to choose between them because each one can be defended in showing skill, intelligence, and a thought-provoking and inspiring message all while advancing whichever field they fit in. Since our whole class has shown the above criterion in each work of poetry we’ve read over the semester, I will use this to choose my pick for better or worse: how connected I felt to the work and what it inspired in me. Now, that’s a dangerous benchmark to use universally for judging something because that delves into the realm of subjectivity, but isn’t a universal inspiration or stirring of something in our thoughts and ideas one of the things poetry should do in a myriad of infinite ways?
Anyway, I choose Citizen by Claudia Rankine as my winner for the NBA. I pick it because it has made the biggest impact on me and forced me to look at things in the world in a completely different way. I know I can’t fully connect to it and the struggles, frustrations, and pain Rankine masterfully depicts.
“In line at the drugstore it’s finally your turn, and then it’s/ not as he walks in front of you and puts his things on the/ counter. The cashier says, Sir, she was next. When he/turns to you he is truly surprised./ Oh my God, I didn’t see you./You must be in a hurry, you offer./No, no, no, I really didn’t see you” (77). I can’t really understand what that’s like from her perspective. Maybe that’s a point of her work: I, as a white male, can’t fully understand the traumatic, neverending wave of racism that African (Asian, Hispanic, Arab, Native, and any-ethnicity-I’m-forgetting-I-apologize Americans) in their own country have experienced. However, I can at least begin to acknowledge, recognize and respect the subconscious pain and justified anger that Rankine really puts the reader through hatred, fear, and ignorance in our current culture.
Is it a timeless, universal work? I can’t say. I don’t how political poetry can or should be, but I know that it shouldn’t ignore it. I also know that poetry and art in general can reflect something profound about the society and time the author writes. Writers reflect the effects of the current world on us especially now in the times and events that our country is going through in Baltimore, Ferguson, New York City, South Carolina, Cleveland, and too many places: everywhere. Maybe that’s why Citizen speaks loudly to me right now; its themes are being discussed, argued, and acted very loudly right now. It’s a book everyone now needs to read and interact with even if it is uncomfortable or provoking because it speaks truth in a way that everyone can get something out of it even if some of it is not accessible.
All these works speak truth in a skilled way obviously shown by our analysis this semester, but Citizen traverses a very loaded and uncomfortable truth in a personal yet deeply national way. All these works are important, but Claudia Rankine’s work seems especially so right now.
I didn’t really delve into specifics because we’ve already gone over that earlier in the semester. You probably don’t want to follow my example on this one, but I don’t know. Thoughts?