Imagery and Escapism

Some tragedies are difficult to confront. Claudia Rankine’s poem from Citizen: An American Lyric (2014) titled “February 26, 2012 / In Memory of Trayvon Martin” uses imagery to show a desire to escape from the police brutality that affects the black community in the United States. Specifically, Rankine utilizes images of nature, which evoke a sense of peace that juxtaposes the event that the poem was inspired by. Imagery is a type of descriptive language that appeals to the senses and prompts the reader to create a mental picture inspired by the language.

Rankine’s repeated images of nature echo throughout the poem. In the fourth paragraph, mentions of the sky are woven between mentions of struggle and pain. Rankine writes, “On the tip of a tongue one note following another is another path, another dawn where the pink sky is the bloodshot of struck, sleepless, of sorry, of senseless, shush.” (89). The image of the pink sky falls in the middle of the sentence, which is concluded by a series of words that connote negative emotions. In this line, I was drawn to the image of the sky as it contrasts strongly with the emotions evoked by “struck, sleepless, sorry, senseless, shush” (89). Then, Rankine uses the image of blossoms to juxtapose violence, slavery, and brutality. Following a list of instances of violence and institutional racism, Rankine writes, “a throat slices through and when we open our mouths to speak, blossoms, o blossoms… The sky is the silence of brothers” (90). Rankine’s brutal image of hanging is juxtaposed here by the image of blossoms, which the reader associates with softness.

The effects provided by Rankine’s imagery are significant, as they offer a glimpse into the speaker’s coping mechanisms for grieving Trayvon Martin. By returning to images of blossoms and the sky, Rankine shows a desire to escape from the realities of police brutality.

Works Cited

Rankine, Claudia. “February 26, 2012 / In Memory of Trayvon Martin.” Citizen: An American Lyric, Graywolf Press, 2014.

B2

The Power of Declaration

Speech is not easy in the face of tragedy. Words can’t capture the depths of grief, but they can circle slowly at its edges and, in their circling, evoke the empty center. In “February 26, 2012/In Memory of Trayvon Martin,” published in Citizen: An American Lyric (2014), Claudia Rankine uses short, declarative sentences to evoke and validate Black Americans’ grief in the face of racist violence.

In her poem, Rankine uses declarative sentences to develop an informative or factual tone. The poem begins with a paragraph composed almost entirely of declarative sentences, and this form of syntax repeats throughout the poem. In the first paragraph she writes, “My brothers are notorious. They have not been to prison. They have been imprisoned. The prison is not a place you enter. It is no place. My brothers are notorious” (Rankine 89). Here, Rankine asserts that the criminal justice system and white America at large criminalize Black men and limit their opportunities. She explains that her “brothers” have not physically been to jail, but are still “imprisoned” by their notoriety and their inability to perform simple (non)activities like “waiting” unmolested. Rankine’s syntax breaks the various parts of these assertions into deceptively straightforward statements. Declarative introduce a subject, describe its action, and end with a period, creating the appearance of simplicity and factuality by drawing an apparently uncomplicated connection between a subject and an action. Rankine expresses sentiments of great political and figurative complexity as matters of what simply “is” or “is not.” This gives her statements the feel of common (and unremarkable) knowledge.

Image result for black lives matter protest

Rendering her ideas as common sense both evokes the numbing effects of continual tragedy and challenges the racist strategy of denying the validity of Black people’s experiences and knowledge. The accumulation of declarative sentences on the topics of imprisonment, racism, and the inability to exist creates a contrast between tone and subject. The factual tone combined with the sorrowful subject matter mirrors the detached manner of a person who is experiencing shock, or who has become numb to grief through the proliferation of tragedy. When dehumanization is part of the fabric of a person’s everyday life, pain must, at times, go underground for the sake of survival. Rankine’s detached tone adds to the power of her poem by underscoring the constant nature of racist violence. Furthermore, her tone is an implicit valorization of the knowledge Black people gather through their daily experiences— knowledge that white people devalue in order to maintain our power. By stating these appearances in a factual tone, Rankine asserts their truth.

 

Works Cited

Rankine, Claudia. “February 26, 2012 / In Memory of Trayvon Martin.” Citizen: An American Lyric, Graywolf Press, 2014.

B 2

Is It Still History If It Reoccurs?

The fatal shooting of Trayvon Martin and the unjust acquittal of George Zimmerman would forever remain in history as the momentous incident that would spark the emergence of the #BlackLivesMatter movement and its conversation about racism and systemic violence towards black people in America. Claudia Rankine’s poem “February 26, 2012/In Memory of Trayvon Martin” in her collection, Citizen: An American Lyric (2014), portrays the emotion of a black individual detailing the position black Americans stand in, both historically and in modern day society.

In her poem, “February 26, 2012/In Memory of Trayvon Martin”, Rankine structures her sentence about the history of the black American as a continuous list, using multiple commas, to depict both the consistent history of violence towards black people and its ongoing presence in modern society. This is evident in the sentence,

“Those years of and before me and my brothers, the years of passage, plantation, migration, of Jim Crow segregation, of poverty, inner cities, profiling, of one in three, two jobs, boy, hey boy, each a felony, accumulate into the hours inside our lives where we are all caught hanging, the rope inside us, the tree inside us, its roots our limbs, a throat sliced through and when we open our mouth to speak, […]” (Rankine 90).

In incorporating a long and continuous sentence with multiple commas, it portrays to the reader just how long and the multiple discriminatory acts black people have had to deal with. The beginning part of the sentence, “[…] the years of passage, plantation, migration, of Jim Crow segregation, of poverty, inner cities […]”, reads like an ongoing list of the historical racism black people faced beginning with slavery and the racist aftermath. Additionally, this excerpt draws our attention to how this racism towards black people is not just one point in time, but it repeats over history. The list begins with “passage” and “plantation”, which signifies the start of unacceptable treatment towards black people, and continues with “Jim Crow segregation”, “poverty”, and “inner cities” to further exemplify that even after slavery, there was still poor treatment towards black people and it continues as evident through socio-economic status and affected neighborhood.

In reference of the Trayvon Martin poem, this excerpt that reads like a passage is significant because it is exemplifying that there is a long history of prejudice and racism towards black people, and yet society is still trying to portray them as the enemy. This poem allows reader to feel the continuity of unfortunate treatment black people have had to deal with and continue to deal with every day. Trayvon’s death is the crux of this poem because he was just a young black boy living his life, when George Zimmerman decided to implement his own prejudiced views and take his life away.

B2.

Works Cited

Rankine, Claudia. Citizen : An American Lyric. Minneapolis, Minnesota : Graywolf Press, [2014], 2014. EBSCOhost, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?                        direct=true&db=cat00326a&AN=dico.1363424&site=eds-live&scope=site.