Reviews in Retrospect: The Poetry of Rankine and Kapil

Claudia Rankine (Don’t Let Me Be Lonely: airport-security) 2004

I love when poems are not about what they first seem. I love that period of discovery, the nervousness of ‘will I get it?’, the relief knowing you don’t have to get anything, you just get to read something beautiful and if it resonates, it resonates. I’ve been reading Claudia Rankine’s poetry for a while and have found that I never get completely used to the way she writes, but I usually recognise her voice. When I first encountered her work, I felt out of my depth. This being said, I would confidently declare that this section of Rankine’s powerful book Don’t Let Me Be Lonely is a great place to start, not because it is ‘easier’ or more ‘accessible’ – it just feels candid to me. The section of the book I’m reviewing is “At the airport-security checkpoint…”. In this passage, Rankine talks about transitional spaces like airports and nursing homes. She talks about language and race and once you read this, you want to read it again and again because not only is it clever- it just makes sense. 

My favourite lines:

But sadness is real because once it meant something real. It meant dignified, grave; it meant trustworthy; it meant exceptionally bad, deplor­able, shameful; it meant massive, weighty, forming a compact body; it meant falling heavily; and it meant of a color: dark. It meant dark in color, to darken. It meant me. I felt sad. 

(Claudia Rankine, “At the airport security checkpoint… (pp. 105-108)” from Don’t Let Me Be Lonely). 

This poem doesn’t make me feel sad, it makes me understand sadness, which, in some strange way, makes me smile. This poem feels like discovering a willow tree in your back garden – it’s always been there; you just haven’t had the time to appreciate its beauty until now. 

Bhanu Kapil (Wish) 2006

Bhanu Kapil’s poetry is written like prose, and that is a style which sends shivers of joy down my spine! I love when prose is poetic and poetry reads like prose, it doesn’t feel strange to me but oddly right. Kapil’s poem, Wish, starts in media res and with some of the stichomythic dialogue. When I first read this I felt like I was playing catch up, but this feeling dissipated when I read one of my favourite lines:

Monsoon. What kind of rain is this? I recognized the immensity but not the temperature. This was monstrous: the inability to assimilate, on the level of the senses, an ordinary experience of weather.

Granted, this line is near the end but that’s the joy of Kapil’s poetry- she takes you on a journey, and though it is an adventure it doesn’t feel taxing or pointless, it is soothing yet uncomfortable, joyful and idyllic yet stark and raw. Kapil’s poetry creates character, the reader stumbles upon the story and searches for meaning. The heat of this poem, that sticky kind of polluted heat, that fresh air, that nostalgia-for-the-countryside, ‘back home’ warm air is so prevalent. This poem feels like a long summer. 

(Bhanu Kapil, “Notes on Monsters: Section 2 (Wish)” from Incubation: A Space for Monsters..)

– Chloé Jarrett-Bell

Featured Image Source: Pexels

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