FORWARD ARTS FOUNDATION: When did you start writing poetry and what drew you into it?
CLAUDIA RANKINE: I began writing after studying the poems of Adrienne Rich in college. She wrote about embarking into the places where language failed us. For whatever reason, this seemed like an invitation.
FAF: Please talk about your development as a writer of poetry. Tell us when you first felt you were a poet and how it went from there.
CR: I believe I first felt I was a poet when I decided against law school. Now, given the
options available, I would study both; but back in the eighties I felt I had to pick one form of graduate school. Becoming a poet seemed a risky career choice, but it felt like a calling—I didn’t argue.
FAF: What does being shortlisted for the Forward Prizes mean for you?
CR: Being shortlisted for the Forward Prizes is a huge honor and I am filled with gratitude that the concerns of Citizen are being recognized as legacies of our shared postcolonial past.
FAF: Please tell us about the creation of your shortlisted collection, from first words to final book. Does it mark a departure or change from your earlier work? Which poems in this collection are most important to you?
CR: Citizen came about by asking friends to share their stories regarding interactions with either friends or colleagues. In this way it is a book about intimacy and race. The form of the collection is both archival and curatorial. Any poem where the speaker is laughing is important to me.
FAF: Which poets do you admire most and what do you value in their work?
CR: I am great admirer of Aimé Césaire, Paul Celan. When you read both these poets
histories fall out of the language. The historical moment from which they wrote is inseparable from the form, the craft, the line, in short, all the decisions that brought the poems to the page.
FAF: What’s next for you as a poet?
CR: I am working on an adaptation of Sophocles’ Antigone. All the dead, black bodies incities across the U.S. moved me to recall the exchanges between Antigone and her sister Ismene. Initiatives like #Black Lives Matter seem to be a politicized version of Ismene’s decision to leave the body unburied. What stays unburied must be grieved out in the open. Suddenly, her passivity seems radicalized.
FAF: What advice would you give to anyone starting out in poetry today?
CR: Buy yourself an Aeron chair and even if you don’t wear glasses today, get a pair for