This Hot Mess
What’s The Matter With Poetry?
For Ben Lerner, poems are the perfect medium for failure. So how can they negotiate with the politics of real life?
Lerner writes that “to claim [Citizen] as lyric would baffle Keats,” simply because the book is written in prose. But the book’s engagement with the lyric is deeper and more political. Rankine’s speaker often daydreams of clouds—a floating image of transcendence straight out of Wordsworth—but this ruminating private self must also wake up and assume the role of the citizen, the exhausted black body whose social interactions are over-determined by the legacies of the American slave state. Lerner may refuse a poetry that speaks for all, but one of Rankine’s lessons is that no matter how much you want to introspect, you’re still stuck assuming your role as a “historical self,” a player in the rigged game of white supremacy. Lerner argues that Rankine feels “the unavailability of traditional lyric categories,” but I think Citizen’s doubts are less literary than political. There’s no one in Citizen singing, “We Shall Overcome.” As in Ta-Nehisi Coates, Rankine sees little salvation in the prospect of emancipation from racial inequity.
And a whole bunch of other blather. Whatevs. Ken's piece is good though. The content is just like...(where's that eye roll emoji...)