Claudia Rankine, The Art of Poetry No. 102 – Interviewed by David L. Ulin – Paris Review – Issue 219/Winter 2016
One of my fav. parts of the interview comes near the end, when Rankine talks about how she wrote her book Don’t Let Me Be Lonely in “paragraphs,” and about the publishers who rejected it and the poet who told her it was “garbage.” She says:
“After Graywolf took it, many of those people who criticized it came around. The editor who had rejected the pieces for his journal sent me a nice letter saying something to the effect of, I was cleaning out my office before classes started, and I came across your poems. I read them again, and boy was I wrong. Which was very kind of him to have done.”
Here’s one of the poems from that book:
from Don’t Let Me Be Lonely: “At the airport-security checkpoint…”
At the airport-security checkpoint on my way to visit my grandmother, I am asked to drink from my water bottle.
—————-This water bottle?
—————-That’s right. Open it and drink from it.
also from the Paris Review interview:
“I was in London doing a taped program for the BBC. During the Q and A, there was a white gentleman, apparently quite well-known across the water, who raised his hand and said to me, I really liked your book, but I liked you better in your book than I like you here. It wasn’t a question. I said to him, Well, I think the real question is, What did you want me to perform for you? What performance were you expecting that you’re not receiving right now? He didn’t answer. I would have liked for him to answer. You can never quite access the image in people’s minds that you are being compared with. People often say to me, I expected you to be angry. Why aren’t you angry? Or they’ve read the book and feel the book isn’t angry, but it says what they feel, so they’re curious how one can say exactly what they feel without saying it in a way that’s angry. This is coming from African Americans as well as white readers. I think people forget that white people are just people, and that we’re all together inside a system that scripts and constructs not just behavior but the imagination.”