[Note: Beginning this blog with a wrap-up, I am sharing my personal favorite books of 2014. I say “favorite” and not “best” because I admit I didn’t read enough of the new stuff this year. But I think I read 2014 well.]
I just finished Citizen: An American Lyric by Claudia Rankine, a collection of poetry I bought with my birthday money and was driven, like so many people, to read now. From lines like “this other kind of anger is really a type of knowledge” to “blossoms, o blossoms, no coming out, brother, dear brother, kind of blue,” Rankine’s lyrics are a way of the “body running off each undesired encounter.” They mourn the killing of black citizens such as Michael Brown and Eric Garner and respond to the verdicts upholding such violence under U.S. law. The speaker’s memories of aggression, both micro and deadly, collect in block text poems that are at once specific and public, intimate and distanced. Published by Graywolf Press, the book is designed by photographer John Lucas. To echo Zora Neale Hurston (as Rankine does), the plain typeface is laid out “against a stark white background” and accompanied by artwork such as a two-page spread of “Untitled (I Feel Most Colored When I Am Thrown Against a Sharp White Background)” by Glenn Ligon. Made to be seen and read, Citizen distills poetry, theory, racism, and art into one daring object of beauty and elegy.
At the 2014 Rainbow Book Fair, I picked up a graphic nonfiction title from OR Books: The United States vs Private Chelsea Manning: A Graphic Account from Inside the Courtroom by Clark Stoeckley. I felt distanced from the Wikileaks scandal before, but Manning interested me, if only because, as a queer person, I saw her as one of my own. Reading my way through her trial, I put other media on pause to enter the courtroom without distraction. Guided by Stoeckley’s prose, transcription, and drawing, I took in the story more holistically than I had while reading articles online. By the end, I found the issues of transparency, privacy, and abuse no less daunting but far more personal.
In the interest of disclosure, Cynthia Cruz is one of my former teachers, and I bought Wunderkammer at her party with Four Way Books at Hansel and Gretel Picture Garden Pocket Utopia, where there was champagne, art on the walls, and a wealth of familiar faces present to celebrate. But, this slim volume is even more exciting than its welcome into the world. The poems of Wunderkammer pull me into a wintry realm where anorexia and clutter meet in art. Cruz’s repetition of words like “paste,” “Ophelia,” and “warm” still sticks in my head. Another layer of clutter overlays my imagination, and I am richer for it.