The Guardian confirmed yesterday that Citizen, the latest work from poet and Pomona College professor Claudia Rankine, was shortlisted for the Forward, one of the best-regarded poetry prizes in the UK. The work, which has already won a National Book Critics Circle Award in the poetry category (also having been nominated in the criticism category—a first for the NBCC Awards), has been widely recognized for breaking poetic convention and using lyric essay and visual media in the service of describing contemporary racisim. Says The Guardian about this work:
Running to 160 pages, Citizen, subtitled An American Lyric, eschews the likes of iambic pentameter and rhyme to command the reader’s attention with a second-person present narrative laying out a series of incidents in which black Americans – sometimes the Jamaica-born Rankine herself – encounter racism. Rankine also includes photo reels of Zinedine Zidane’s 2006 World Cup head butt, Obama’s oath of office and JMW Turner’s painting The Slave Ship. The Forward prize called it “a bold challenge to historic definitions of poetic form”.
Commenting on the likelihood that Citizen will receive criticism on the basis of its non-traditional structure, Forward prize judge Carrie Etter said the following:
“People who insist that poetry is only poetry if it’s in lines are missing out. As Citizen is in prose, I anticipate some readers’ definition of poetry will exclude it, and so some may object to its inclusion on the list. So be it.”