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About this poet

Born in Jamaica in 1963, Claudia Rankine earned her BA in English from Williams College and her MFA in poetry from Columbia University.

She is the author of five collections of poetry: Citizen: An American Lyric (Graywolf Press, 2014); Don't Let Me Be Lonely: An American Lyric (Graywolf Press, 2004); PLOT (Grove Press, 2001); The End of the Alphabet (Grove Press, 1998); and Nothing in Nature is Private (Cleveland State University Poetry Center, 1995), which received the Cleveland State Poetry Prize.

Rankine has edited numerous anthologies, including American Women Poets in the Twenty-First Century: Where Lyric Meets Language (Wesleyan University Press, 2002) and American Poets in the Twenty-First Century: The New Poetics (Wesleyan University Press, 2007). Her plays include Provenance of Beauty: A South Bronx Travelogue, commissioned by the Foundry Theatre and Existing Conditions, co-authored with Casey Llewellyn. She has also produced a number of videos in collaboration with John Lucas, including "Situation One."

Of her book Don't Let Me Be Lonely: An American Lyric, an experimental multi-genre project that blends poetry, essays, and images, poet Robert Creeley said: "Claudia Rankine here manages an extraordinary melding of means to effect the most articulate and moving testament to the bleak times we live in I've yet seen. It's master work in every sense, and altogether her own."

In 2013, Rankine was elected a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets. Mark Doty has praised her selection, saying: "Claudia Rankine's formally inventive poems investigate many kinds of boundaries: the unsettled territory between poetry and prose, between the word and the visual image, between what it's like to be a subject and the ways we're defined from outside by skin color, economics, and global corporate culture. This fearless poet extends American poetry in invigorating new directions."

Her honors include fellowships from the Lannan Foundation and the National Endowments for the Arts. In 2005, Rankine was awarded the Academy Fellowship for distinguished poetic achievement by the Academy of American Poets. She is currently the Henry G. Lee Professor of English at Pomona College.


Selected Bibliography

Citizen: An American Lyric (Graywolf Press, 2014)
Don't Let Me Be Lonely: An American Lyric (Graywolf Press, 2004)
PLOT (Grove Press, 2001)
The End of the Alphabet (Grove Press, 1998)
Nothing in Nature is Private (Cleveland State University Poetry Center, 1995)

Don't Let Me Be Lonely [There was a time]

Claudia Rankine

There was a time I could say no one I knew well had died. This is not to suggest no one died. When I was eight my mother became pregnant. She went to the hospital to give birth and returned without the baby. Where's the baby? we asked. Did she shrug? She was the kind of woman who liked to shrug; deep within her was an everlasting shrug. That didn't seem like a death. The years went by and people only died on television—if they weren't Black, they were wearing black or were terminally ill. Then I returned home from school one day and saw my father sitting on the steps of our home. He had a look that was unfamiliar; it was flooded, so leaking. I climbed the steps as far away from him as I could get. He was breaking or broken. Or, to be more precise, he looked to me like someone understanding his aloneness. Loneliness. His mother was dead. I'd never met her. It meant a trip back home for him. When he returned he spoke neither about the airplane nor the funeral.

 

Every movie I saw while in the third grade compelled me to ask, Is he dead? Is she dead? Because the characters often live against all odds it is the actors whose mortality concerned me. If it were an old, black-and-white film, whoever was around would answer yes. Months later the actor would show up on some latenight talk show to promote his latest efforts. I would turn and say—one always turns to say—You said he was dead. And the misinformed would claim, I never said he was dead. Yes, you did. No, I didn't. Inevitably we get older; whoever is still with us says, Stop asking me that.

 

Or one begins asking oneself that same question differently. Am I dead? Though this question at no time explicitly translates into Should I be dead, eventually the suicide hotline is called. You are, as usual, watching television, the eight-o'clock movie, when a number flashes on the screen: I-800-SUICIDE. You dial the number. Do you feel like killing yourself? the man on the other end of the receiver asks. You tell him, I feel like I am already dead. When he makes no response you add, I am in death's position. He finally says, Don't believe what you are thinking and feeling. Then he asks, Where do you live?

Fifteen minutes later the doorbell rings. You explain to the ambulance attendant that you had a momentary lapse of happily. The noun, happiness, is a static state of some Platonic ideal you know better than to pursue. Your modifying process had happily or unhappily experienced a momentary pause. This kind of thing happens, perhaps is still happening. He shrugs and in turn explains that you need to come quietly or he will have to restrain you. If he is forced to restrain you, he will have to report that he is forced to restrain you. It is this simple: Resistance will only make matters more difficult. Any resistance will only make matters worse. By law, I will have to restrain you. His tone suggests that you should try to understand the difficulty in which he finds himself. This is further disorienting. I am fine! Can't you see that! You climb into the ambulance unassisted.

Excerpt from Don’t Let Me Be Lonely copyright © 2004 by Claudia Rankine. Used with the permission of Graywolf Press, Saint Paul, Minnesota. All rights reserved.

Excerpt from Don’t Let Me Be Lonely copyright © 2004 by Claudia Rankine. Used with the permission of Graywolf Press, Saint Paul, Minnesota. All rights reserved.

Claudia Rankine

Claudia Rankine

Born in Jamaica in 1963, Claudia Rankine was elected a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets in 2013.

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A woman you do not know wants to join you for lunch. You are visiting her campus. In the café you both order the Caesar salad. This overlap is not the beginning of anything because she immediately points out that she, her father, her grandfather, and you, all attended the same college.

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In the darkened moment a body gifted with the blue light of a flashlight
enters with levity, with or without assumptions, doubts, with desire,
the beating heart, disappointment, with desires—

Stand where you are.

You begin to move around in search of the steps it will take before you