Winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award in Poetry, the NAACP Image Award, and the PEN Open Book Award, Rankine's poetry recounts mounting racial aggressions in ongoing encounters in twenty-first-century daily life and in the media.
The challenge of making racism relevant, or even evident, to those who do not bear the brunt of its ill effects is tricky. Rankine brilliantly pushes poetry’s forms to disarm readers and circumvent our carefully constructed defense mechanisms against the hint of possibly being racist ourselves ... The writing zigs and zags effortlessly between prose poems, images and essays. This is the poet as conceptual artist, in full mastery of her craft. And while the themes of this book could have been mined from any point in America’s history, Rankine sets the whole collection resolutely in the present. Contemporary content and contemporary form mirror each other ... it’s like viewing an experimental film or live performance. One is left with a mix of emotions that linger and wend themselves into the subconscious ... Rankine creates an intentionally disorienting experience, one that mirrors the experience of racial micro-aggressions her subjects encounter. ... throws a Molotov cocktail at the notion that a reduction of injustice is the same as freedom.
Rankine delivers a spondee like a gut punch. Stressed monosyllables sound in pairs throughout Citizen like gongs of a Greek tragedy—ominous and riveting ... Rankine’s rhythms serve an ethical purpose—they are markers in an assay of the venom that is systemic racism ... The book’s excruciating narratives of racism in familiar setting induce incredible anxiety ... The success of Citizen lies in its searing moral vision and reader-implicating provocations, and it does this work through its singular command of poetic resources. The book reminds poetry readers they do not have to choose between technique and content, concept and pathos, form and politics. To read this book is to yield to hunger for feeling, to bear witness to testimony that demands social change, and to encounter rigorous formal exigencies and structural principles ... Rankine’s lyric is meditative interiority plunged into ice-cold history ... Even her most traditional poetic devices, simile and metaphor, are viscerally felt ... a standout book, a book that might break out of the insular poetry world and reach exponentially more minds than most poetry books do.
... a circuitous and intimate descent into the poet’s past in order to examine race in America ... Rankine writes almost exclusively in the second-person present, a tense that implicates as it includes, endowing events with a sense of immediacy and urgency ... The impression is of an intensely sensitive writer—in both senses—trying to confront the mess of modern America with a clear critique ... Rankine’s language continually undermines the casual reading it encourages, revealing how exchanges are coded, complex, how tone decides everything ... One problem with writing poetry about political or historical issues is that poetry proves a terrible method for transmitting real information. The personal poems in Citizen, the anecdotes and micro-aggressions, have considerably more power than the more abstracted ones ... is on the cusp of poetry and critique ... wonderfully capacious and innovative. In her riffs on the demotic, in her layering of incident, she finds a new way of writing about race in America ... Rankine’s series of anecdotes are geared to a purpose and theme: they are ethical formulations that are too honest and angry to be merely presentations; they’re intended as proofs.