Citizen: An American Lyric

Citizen: An American Lyric Summary

The book consists of seven poetic sections accompanied by images of paintings, drawings, sculptures, and screen grabs. Some have called the book one single poem, while others break it into its various sections, considering each its own poem. Although few of the poems have formal titles, they are strung together with consistent themes and prosaic tendencies.

Section I focuses on microagressions aimed at 'you', the unimagined narrator, whose experience is at times that of a black person and at other times that of a white person witnessing acts and being asked to take part in them. Section II brings in the YouTube character Hennessy Youngman, as well as a number of racially charged incidents in the career of Serena Williams. Section III features more microagressions and the complex nature of intentional and unintentional racist language. In Section IV Rankine's writing moves into the abstract, detailing the transition of sighs into aches, more on the nature of language, memory, and a tennis match watched in silence. Section V juxtaposes several notions of self-identity with more microagressions. Section VI is a series of scripts for "situation videos" created in collaboration with John Lucas on Hurricane Katrina, the shootings of Trayvon Martin and James Craig Anderson, the Jena Six, the 2011 England riots in the wake of the death of Mark Duggan, Stop-and-frisk, Zinedine Zidane's headbutt of Marco Materazzi in the 2006 FIFA World Cup Final, and a verbal error during Barack Obama's first inauguration as President of the United States. This section ends with "Making Room," a script for a "public fiction" (185) about finding a seat on the subway, and a list of African-American men involved in recent police shooting incidents. The final section, Section VII, meditates on themes of race, the body, language and various incidents in the life of the narrator. In the end, the author admits that she "doesn't know how to end what doesn't have an ending" (188).