J.Cole’s 2014 Forest Hills Drive, Radiohead’s Kid A and Jericho Brown’s The New Testament are currently engaged in an unlikely but lovely menage a trois in my dorm. Last week, writer (or more accurately I think: curator and creator) Claudia Rankine came to campus and described her process as one that is not only intertextual but interdisciplinary. She is constantly watching lectures online, carrying what sounded like at least 10 books in her bag at a time, debating with fellow artists, staying fervently engaged in the goings-on of the present and hunting for music and visual art she likes. She said that one must “interrogate history first” and called these interdisciplinary engagements “pathways”. Rankine seemed very concerned with how much the eye can hold, with redirecting its perspective. I don’t want to ruin Citizen for you but there’s an instance in which Rankine uses a found image and omits what would be previously perceived as the subject of the image in an attempt to “redirect the gaze” of the reader. Both Citizen and Don’t Let Me Be Lonely, both categorized with the subtitle “An American Lyric” challenge the reader to rewire themselves and eschew the way they would typically engage with a book of poetry. Whether it’s the recurring image of a static television screen or a transcription of a news report, Rankine directs us toward questions like “How does the accepted definition of “All-American” ostracize non-white Americans and/or Americans who have immigrated?” or “How much of the threat of blackness is born in the White imagination?”
I’m commanding you to read Citizen. It’s remarkable and it is so important that it exists for this time more than any other.
I’ve just started the Jericho Brown but so far I am SCREAMING. It is just beautiful. I love the juxtaposition with religious text that the “new testament” structure presents.
Anyway, love from Vermont. Have a lovely day! (Also please tweet your AWP selfies to @PTReditors so that I can pretend I’m there while I’m stuck in school.)