Rankine’s Lyric Voice and Form

Considering Rankine’s obsession over understanding loss and ultimately death, I feel that the lyric is the perfect approach to trying to reify those abstract and complex ideas.  Her background as a poet allows her this liminal space between narrative and a fragmented poem to develop her autobiography in a structure that relies heavily on the lyric form to translate those abstractions into meditations on herself and past experiences, inner questioning, strange recollections, and the various metaphorical representations of the television.  It seems Rankine uses form in her autobiography to further express thoughts that can’t seem to be voiced by language (a common struggle for poets), incorporating photographs, images from the media and history, labels off of pill bottles, strange graphics of the human interior, all of which all for the narrator to keep speaking without using dialogue.

The prevalence of loss and death throughout Rankine’s life leaves her in this state of constant uncertainty which takes the form of questions and this strange dialogue that I saw as a verbal exchange between Rankine and her inner self. For example, in the dialogue on page 119 it is apparent that two voices are present: the first asks, “Life is a form of hope?” to which the second replies, “If you are hopeful.”  Rankine seems to ask herself this question about life and hope, and the voice that answers back is her inner self fixated on death and loss, the anti-depressant medicated self, the self that answers truthfully and unabashed.  What follows is contemplation over this idea between what Rankine wants to believe in reality and what she fears to be true.  As this meditation closes, Rankine declares “I am here” — here in this life, hopeful yet hopeless. Her inner self recognizes this and the two voices seem to merge in the last line by replying with the inescapable truth: “And I am still lonely.”  This type of self-questioning reminds me of the dialogue in Langston Hughes’ Montage of a Dream Deferred between the past and present selves, which could be a definite model for the development of her lyric voice.


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