cover image PLOT


Claudia Rankine, PLOTClaudia Rankine

Spiraling around the story of "Liv" and "Erland" and their future child, "Ersatz," this book-length poem embeds its loose "plot" in the sensations and anxieties of birth and child-rearing: "Liv, answer me this: Is the female anatomically in need of a child as a life preserver, a hand, a hand up? And now, pap smeared, do you want harder the family you fear in fear of all those answers?" One of the more striking moments is when the three main figures conjoin to render the self-other situation clear: "That same night Erland pressed his ear to Liv's belly./ What do you hear? Liv asked./ Not you, Erland answered. Not you." Unfortunately, unlike Rankine's tersely investigative The End of the Alphabet, Plot is particularly prone to run-on, obfuscated formulations and grammatical constructions: "the damaged image absorbed to appear, the exemplar seen and felt as one, having grown thick in the interior, opens on to surface and is the surface reflecting its source." (Such passages may actually be purposefully "embryonic.") A dialogical "Interlude" and a series of odd, graphically charted pages chart further separations, but don't feel completely motivated. This book seems consciously aimed at the nexus of several different feminist avant-garde projects, from the nouveau roman of Monique Wittig to Theresa Hak Kyung Cha's Dictee. If it doesn't quite hit the mark this time, it promises further inquiry. (Apr. 9)

Forecast:Rankine was the co-organizer of the influential "Where Lyric Traditions Meet Language Poetry: Innovation in Contemporary American Poetry by Women" conference in New York in 1999, and is very well known on the experimental and po-biz scenes. Many poetry readers will buy this book just to see what she's up to, and others may find it if shelved in women's studies, African-American studies or fiction sections.