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Towards a Poetics of Racial Trauma: Lyric Hybridity in Claudia Rankine's Citizen

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  02 May 2017

Department of English, Royal Holloway, University of London. Email:


The longevity of the lyric belies persisting difficulties in terms of its definition and categorization, particularly given the form's evolution in the face of philosophical, sociopolitical and cultural transformations. In Claudia Rankine's Citizen, the lyric is powerfully refashioned in response to the historical and contemporary tribulations of being a black citizen in America. Rankine's keen awareness of how linguistic injury caused by microaggressions registers in the body leads her to an adoption and adaptation of the lyric form, with Citizen aptly subtitled “An American Lyric.” Citizen is an urgent and timely book that sustains America's conversation on race and racial injustice on a level of national grief, even as Rankine brings it to the level of personal intimacy by asking, “How do you make a body accountable for its language, its positioning?” I contend that Citizen is a work that extends the lyric's possibilities through creating a hybrid text containing lyric essays, photography, public art and video scripts, which are juxtaposed for intertextual and polyphonic effects. I argue that Rankine uses lyric hybridity to create a poetics of racial trauma that meditates on the effects of racial injustice as it manifests in the bodies of traumatized individuals. Lyric hybridity appears crucial to Rankine's project, since it allows for complex subjectivity and intimate address amidst a clarity of language that enables the reader to perceive how we easily we fail one another in our daily pursuit of relationality, community and citizenship.

Copyright © Cambridge University Press and British Association for American Studies 2017 

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