Techniques That Make Claudia Rankine Poems In “Citizen” Relatable


Claudia Rankine is politically charged prose poet, and her works, especially Citizen, have a great influence on the modern American society. Citizen is a poem conducted in prose, thus making it one of the staples of the contemporary literature. One of the important things about Rankine’s work is that it is incredibly relevant to African American community. This work will focus and analyse techniques that Rankine used in the poem that make it relatable. Techniques such as usage of “you” instead of names, emotional language and familiar settings.

Techniques used in Citizen

In Citizen Rankine creates powerful piece of contemporary literature. It is an investigative poetry that pieces together documentary, reportage, and the poet’s imagination, including testimonials, cultural documents, news reports, photos, sketches, graphs, facts and statistics, and takes the form of a third-person and first-person lyrical prose (Dow 21). All these tools are emphasised through Rankine’s literate techniques that make the poem relevant to modern society.

First thing that comes to mind when reading Rankine’s Citizen (2014) is the lack of first names and such pronouns as “he”, “she”, “it”. Rankine uses this narrative technique to make the poem more relatable to the reader. For example, when reading, “you know this is wrong,” “you need to be quite,” (Rankine 108), the readers automatically associate themselves with the poem. This creates a kind of living, hypothetical storyline that allows the reader to co-write the text. Rankine’s text is arguably accessible to vast audiences with different backgrounds, and yet anyone from these audiences can identify themselves with the story.

Rankine does not use names, which can make the poem unrelated, as the readers will not associate themselves with someone named Mark, for example. However, when the text says “you ask a friend”, “you tell the neighbour” (Rankine 15), that makes it more relatable. The action described in the poem is aimed at the reader directly, thus making the story more significant. Considering the fact that Rankine focuses on voicing problems of systematic racism in her works, this technique is especially relevant (Luis 4). Overall, Rankine’s narrative technique is a powerful tool that makes Citizen a relatable work and allows readers to connect with the topics discussed on a deeper emotional level.

Second technique that Rankine is prone to use in Citizen is the emotional language. The lines “you are standing face-to-face in seconds that wipe those affable smiles right of your mouths” (Rankine 14), make the reader feel the power behind the words. Rankine focuses on systemic racism, politics, death and inequality in her works (Luis 5). Therefore, usage of phrases such as “hit me motherfucker” impact the reader, thus making the problem described more relatable. The strong language emphasises the questions that the writer addresses. Such technique make the pain of the character more real, therefore considering the narrating technique, also affecting the reader.

Moreover, Citizen enters social conflict by pitting the past and present against each other. Rankine beautifully exposes the irony of black visibility when she explains that the racist language that was once perceived as being used to “denigrate and erase” the black community is the very instrument by which the black community is validated. She notes that, “Language that is hurtful is intended to exploit all the ways that you are present” (Rankine 49). Yet again, keeping in mind the fact that Rankine concentrates on racism and death, the use on emotional language is suitable to make a necessary statement and connect the reader with the problem.

Third technique frequented by Rankine is placing the action in a very relatable setting. Once the reader sees the words “your window seat on United Airlines” (Rankine 12) it immediately makes the picture described more accessible. The readers can immediately imagine themselves on such a plane, and the actions in the poem affect them directly. Everyday setting in a café, eating lunch (Rankine 13) is also a very relatable setting, however Rankine uses it to demonstrate inequality when characters discuss seemingly everyday matters with underlying notes of injustice and inequality. As well as that, places such as “neighbours’ house” or going to see a specific film are universally relatable to the reader. When problems of racism are discussed in such settings, it enables the readers to connect with them easily.

Some scholars consider Rankine’s Citizen a journalistic literature, given the way she describes places and events (Dow 2). In presenting the material world, this text finds forms to challenge the ways that world is perceived. Using reports, facts and statistics, Rankine was able to create very lively settings and address real life events in her poem. The effect that it makes on the reader is profound. The bestselling work speaks for itself.


Claudia Rankine and her work on prose poetry has already made a great impact on contemporary American literature. Concentrating on modern problems of systematic racism, injustice, death and inequality, Rankine makes these problems relatable to large audiences. In order to achieve such familiarity levels, the author uses special techniques in her work that turn Citizen into a modern day revelation. Rankine uses prose in her poetry, which makes it easier to read, especially for the audiences that are not into poetry.

As well as that, one of the most powerful tools in Rankine arsenal is her narrating technique. She always addresses the reader directly, therefore making the statement more profound. When the reader sees a story that addresses someone else, it could be difficult to connect with it. However, Rankine overcomes such obstacle, when speaking to the reader directly. Therefore, making the problems of racisms and inequality addressed in Citizen more relatable to someone, who might not be affected by them in everyday life.

Another tool that makes Citizen more relatable is Rankine’s use of emotional language. Even if it can be harsh and uncensored, strong language helps the reader to feel the issues on a deeper level and have an emotional response to them. As well as that, putting the setting in the poem in real life places also has emotional effect and response from the readers. Therefore, making Citizen more relatable to larger audiences and successfully addressing modern day issues of American society.

Works Cited

Dow, William. Fieldwork Literature, Created Lives: George Packer and Claudia Rankine. Études, vol. 18, 2019.

Luis, Carlos. Prose Poetry the Contemporary Poetry Form. Academia, 2019.

Rankine, Claudia. Citizen. Graywolf Press, 2014.