The Poetry Concierge Recommends: Claudia Rankine

PoetryConcierge[The Poetry Concierge is an occasional feature here on Rosemary and Reading Glasses wherein I select a poem, poet, or book of poems for individual readers based on a short questionnaire. Come play along! Read the introductory post here, my first recommendation here, the reboot here, and then email me at: rosemaryandreadingglasses [at] gmail [dot] com.]

This week, our pilgrim in search of poetry is Jenny of Reading the End. 

1. When you read fiction, who’s your go-to author?

It’s so hard to choose just one! I’m going to say Maggie Stiefvater, because she’s the blend of creepiness and feelings and Societal Issues that I’m feeling very fond of right now.

2. If you read nonfiction, which subjects are most likely to interest you? (cultural history, science, biography, memoir, survival stories?)

Cultural studies is always good for me — anything that describes society with a keen eye, whether it’s our present society now or a time long past.

3. If you were stuck on a desert island for a week, which five books would you bring to keep you entertained?

I’d probably pick five from my TBR list relatively at random, depending on what my mood was like. Probably at least two hefty nonfiction books, to last me; a romance novel for funsies; a YA novel I’ve been anticipating for a while; and a big fat chunky novel that I’ve been putting off reading for a while, like East of Eden.

4. If you were on a five-year mission to Mars, which five books would you bring to keep you sane?

Angels in America, the Bible, Robert and Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s letters, Shakespeare, and Diana Wynne Jones’s Fire and Hemlock.

5. What kinds of questions are most likely to keep you up at night? (death, the nature of love, politics, environmental issues, meaning of life, end of the world, justice and injustice, etc?)

What will happen to the people I love (death sometimes, illness sometimes, lost jobs sometimes), and how frustrating it is that I don’t have the power to change it.

6. If you’ve read poetry before, what have you liked? What have you disliked?

I love June Jordan and CP Cavafy and Paradise Lost; I’ve never had any luck with poets who gaze at flowers like Wordsworth and Shelley (sorry, dudes).


So much to work with here! Jenny is an omnivorous reader after my own heart (and, confession, Wordsworth and Shelley have never been my favorites either).

First I focused on the creepy angle from Jenny’s answer to the first question, because that’s not something I see too often. It put me in mind of Louise Glück’s “All Hallows” or a handful of Emily Dickinson poems (nothing like a dead speaker for creepiness).

But then I circled back around to Jenny’s interest in social issues, which she not only mentions explicitly, but also shows in her literary picks (June Jordan, Shakespeare, Milton, Angels in America, the Bible, East of Eden). Audre Lorde leapt to mind (“Never to Dream of Spiders,” “Coal,” A Woman Speaks”), and I think Jenny might like those poems, and also Tracy K. Smith’s book Life on Mars (especially given what keeps Jenny up at night), but I thought choosing Life on Mars would be cheating since I’ve already recommended it. 

Then I wandered around my house full of books, and found the answer in the hallway: Claudia Rankine’s Citizen: An American Lyric, which I just read last week (two weeks ago, by the time you read this) and was about to return to the library.

IMG_6469Citizen won many, many awards (and got some unexpected media attention), and rightly so. It’s a hybrid of poetry, images and essay, a wide-ranging witnessing of how race and racism and race work in America (and it’s also fantastic sports writing, which I haven’t seen often mentioned). It combines the poet’s personal experiences (as in this excerpt, which you can hear Claudia Rankine read here), considerations of the media’s treatment of African American citizens, meditations on the injustices we’ve all seen in the news. It’s an important, formally exciting book (and so popular that my library still has a waitlist for it, even though it was published in 2014!).

I hope you have a chance to read Citizen, Jenny, and that it’s a pick that’s right for you!


Would you like the Poetry Concierge to make a recommendation for you? Check out the introductory post, and send your answers to the questionnaire, along with the name and/or blog you’d like posted with the reply, to rosemaryandreadingglasses [at] gmail [dot] com.

8 thoughts on “The Poetry Concierge Recommends: Claudia Rankine

  1. This is so much fun! I am so tempted to email you all of my answers to these questions too and see what you recommend for me! Citizen has been on my TBR list for a really long time, so I might have to finally pick it up this weekend. Thank you for reminding me!

  2. Aw yay, I love this! You have recommended extremely well — I adored Citizen — and I’m also going to have a grand old time reading the other poets you’ve recommended/talked about throughout this post. Thanks so much for doing this!

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