Published: June 3rd, 2015
Claudia Rankine is a Jamaican poet and playwright who has earned two National Book Critics Circle Award in 2014 for poetry and criticism.
Howl: What motivated you to write poetry?
Rankine: It is difficult to say what exactly motivated me but I remember taking a class at Williams and being moved by the work of Adrianne Rich. I wanted to try to do what she did. I wanted to achieve through language what I was experiencing as a reader.
Howl: You newest book, Citizen, is based on racism in the 21st century. Have you encountered racism yourself?
Rankine: Racism is in the water in the United States. Despite trying to legislate against it for two centuries we find it everywhere including in ourselves. So yes, I experience racism often. One has to also guard against blindly following the racist thinking around us. Our silence is an ally to racism.
Howl: What is your writing and editing process like?
Rankine: I consider the early draft a process of creating material that I then work with for years. The challenge is to get each word to bear the weight of its context. It needs to suggest and seem easy or natural at the same time.
Howl: What makes poetry your creative medium of choice?
Rankine: I love poets, the work of poets, the most. Paul Celan, Cesar Vallejo, Rilke float above everything for me.
Howl: Do you have particularly favorite poems of yours that stand out and why?
Rankine: Poems by Cesar Vallejo. His use of metaphor is amazing. The turning back \ with all his road to see himself alone. OMG!
“Black Stone on a White Stone”
By César Vallejo
Translated By Rebecca Seiferle Read the translator's notes
I will die in Paris with a rainstorm,
on a day I already remember,
I will die in Paris—and I don't shy away--
perhaps on a Thursday, as today is, in autumn.
It will be Thursday, because today, Thursday, as I prose
these lines, I've put on my humeri in a bad mood,
and, today like never before, I've turned back,
with all of my road, to see myself alone.
César Vallejo has died; they kept hitting him,
everyone, even though he does nothing to them,
they gave it to him hard with a club and hard
also with a rope; witnesses are
the Thursday days and the humerus bones,
the solitude, the rain, the roads. . .
Howl: Are there any contemporary writers out there you particularly like?
Rankine: Dawn Lundy Martin, Catherine Barnett, Brian Blanchfield. Brian's essays are on
his website. They are amazing.
Howl: How do you avoid or get over writer's block?
Rankine: I read. Eventually I feel like in am in conversation with some writer.
Howl: Which writers inspired you to write?
Rankine: Robert Hass' use of the prose poem is inspiring. I love the way you can see him
thinking on the page.
Howl: Do you feel like the poet has a particular responsibility to the reader and vice versa?
Rankine: No, I think the writer has a responsibility to the work.
Howl: What advice do you have for budding poets?
Rankine: Read everything.