In “Refusal of the Mask in Claudia Rankine’s Post-9/11 Poetics”, Joanna Penn Cooper “unmasks” stylistic and racial confluences in the Jamaican-American poet.
In Don’t Let Me Be Lonely: An American Lyric (2004), Jamaican-American poet Claudia Rankine explores post-9/11 American existence through innovations in hybrid form, stylistically performing themes of disconnection, searching, and grieving. The text comprises, as the back cover indicates, something between prose poems and lyric essay, as well as photographs depicting images from mass media, many by her husband and collaborator John Lucas. Additionally, the text includes twenty-one pages of endnotes, forming a parallel text whose more “straightforward” knowing pulls against the main text’s journey into grieving alienation. Ultimately, the poems, images, and endnotes resonate, providing an innovative engagement with lived experience’s mediation through film, television, journalism, the messages of government, and those of the medical and pharmaceutical industries. Despite the book’s subtitle (“An American Lyric”), Don’t Let Me Be Lonely resists lyrical gestures toward “wholeness” and “unity” that erase real trauma. Claiming neither the easy affirmations of some lyric poetry, nor the subversive mask of much twentieth- and twenty-first century ethnic American literature, Rankine instead offers fragmentary counter-gestures that resist closure, suggesting the power of genre experimentation to challenge received knowledge. Rankine’s non-masked but politically and existentially searching speaker reawakens her reader to how artistic innovation helps resist the numbing discourses playing across contemporary Americans’ minds and bodies.