Claudia Rankine wants to correct wrongs with her poetry.  She has gone about it in just the right way, and has made a name for herself (in poetry circles, at least) with her indignation.

Here’s what Edgar Allan Poe had to say about the Claudia Rankine School.

In Poe’s day, it existed in the person of William Wordsworth, an early environmentalist.  Romantic Naturalists, Early Environmentalists is a useful book on the subject: it credits Wordsworth’s influence on Emerson, and Emerson’s influence on John Muir.  Poe, too, loved nature—what Poe speaks to is any faith in poetry’s utilitarian value, a broader philosophical critique of Wordsworth and his “Lake School,” which included Coleridge and Southey—these two made plans (later aborted) to travel to America and live on a commune, similar to Brook Farm—a failed experiment of the Transcendentalists, a group Poe thought rather silly.  Nature is not the issue, but what is to be done to manage and protect it properly, and how much should poetry get involved in the process, or any utilitarian project.  Here is Poe:

As I am speaking of poetry, it will not be amiss to touch slightly upon the most singular heresy in its modern history — the heresy of what is called very foolishly, the Lake School. ***

Aristotle, with singular assurance, has declared poetry the most philosophical of all writing — but it required a Wordsworth to pronounce it the most metaphysical. He seems to think that the end of poetry is, or should be, instruction — yet it is a truism that the end of our existence is happiness; if so, the end of every separate part of our existence — every thing connected with our existence should be still happiness. Therefore the end of instruction should be happiness; and happiness is another name for pleasure; — therefore the end of instruction should be pleasure: yet we see the above mentioned opinion implies precisely the reverse.

To proceed: ceteris paribus, he who pleases, is of more importance to his fellow men than he who instructs, since utility is happiness, and pleasure is the end already obtained which instruction is merely the means of obtaining.

So, according to Poe, the utilitarians err in a very fundamental manner: they present instruction as the goal of pleasure (poetry)—which makes no sense at all, if we follow the logic.

Rankine’s line is this:

How difficult is it for one body to see injustice wheeled at another?

Her opponent is Rowan Ricard Phillips, who is more, perhaps, on the pleasing end of things, but we are not sure:

It does not not get you quite wrong.

We like the double negative. We like lines that are windows into something else, and for us, this line exemplifies the idea that anything can be anything and something can be exactly something within that anything when we are using language. Though many poets do not allow language’s slipperiness to dominate their poetry, some poets do.

We leave it at that.

The winner will be chosen by the muses and the gods.



  1. maryangeladouglas said,

    April 14, 2016 at 2:05 pm

    I cannot praise poems that deal with racism as the expression goes or any form of injustice overtly, I just can’t do it. Because I strongly feel poetry is not for that. Poetic prose, impassioned prose, yes; (and the use of the word wheeled in Claudia Rankine’s phrase quoted here is devastatingly beautiful in its precision delineating deliberate cruelty)and marks her in my opinion as a true poet. There has to be a sanctuary for Beauty, where there is the balm in Gilead in the arts and I believe that was and remains the true calling of Poetry. Injustice must be addressed unceasingly, but sometimes what people need most is the reminder that there are other things than the worst things that can happen, that happen to you in a given day or century and this I believe is the purpose of poetry, the waters of consolation, the waters of Shiloh. But the wheeling, the wheeling, the dread impact of that wheeling, the wounded body, the wounded body, the fractured heart falling through space, through grief, through Time itself, there is such perfection in that phrase that I know Claudia Rankine is, regardless of my distinctions, a Poet.

    • maryangeladouglas said,

      April 14, 2016 at 8:20 pm

      I did not mean that I thought Claudia R.’s poem dealt with racism; from the line it isn’t clear what kind of injustice is being addressed. The line of the poem rippled into that part of my mind because it is a concern that I have that poetry is meant to hold beauty and cannot really hold anything else in a convincing way because it just isn’t meant to. In the wider sense now apart from her line, there seems to be a surfeit of poems “addressing” race to the point where it feels like the poets that write of this are afraid to write of anything else. I would wish if that is true we might all be freed from the concept of poetry as a social obligation because it is not just cloying and depressing, it is ineffectual and very possibly an utter waste and unintedned misuse of rich lyrical gifts.

  2. maryangeladouglas said,

    April 14, 2016 at 6:39 pm

    Very interesting about Poe coming down on the side of not using poetry for any kind of instruction. Poe seems to have been very thorough in covering so many aspects of poetry and related matters.

    Concerning the double negative (and i confess a real delight too in seeing the not not) remembering how hard the teachers always came down on us for any hint of that. I like to end sentences with prepositions too (and I was tempted there to fake a typo and write to but I do not fake unless by mistake). I did find a very heartening example of the double negative and a suprisingly impassioned defense of it on of all things a Voice of America learning English site ( and I didn’t even know the Voice of America still existed so that was pleasant too. Here’s their highpoint in a lesson on the double negative in English:

    [William Shakespeare even used a triple negative in his play Richard III. Shakespeare wrote, “I never was nor never will be.”

    Was Shakespeare wrong? (source]

  3. maryangeladouglas said,

    April 16, 2016 at 12:21 am

    It was definitely the golden age of children’s literature (at least in the English language) when instructional tales gave way to colorfully illustrated volumes of imagination and the word that always made my sister and I laugh when we were little, “whimsy”.

    And sorry (but not by much) I can’t help it but that just segues into “All mimsey…”.

    • maryangeladouglas said,

      April 16, 2016 at 12:24 am

      Spelled mimsey wrong. I would love to see that word on a National Spelling Bee. Mimsy in a sentence please, the earnest speller would say…(followed by brillig and wabes in quick succession). I just would like to hear that over the loudspeaker and the hush of the crowd.

  4. maryangeladouglas said,

    April 16, 2016 at 2:45 am


    [after the film by David Lynch]

    consummatum est

    beauty could not quite forsake
    forsake him in his dream,
    her house made of

    bits of broken mirrors
    where the moons streamed
    behind clouds not unkindly and

    the stream almost murmured my dear,
    my dear (the narration’s not too clear)
    and he thought in his

    dream if only Andromeda were
    not caught in the branches,
    I could rescue her;

    I would be happy and silver. and
    restless in sleep
    he moved, distressing the pillow of Mars,

    setting off the alarms: oh let my son,

    his mothers prayed, along his spiky way
    sleep, sleep far from the jeering
    and the jar of ointment

    broken, at his feet

    mary angela douglas 15 april 2016

    • maryangeladouglas said,

      April 16, 2016 at 7:18 am


      [to the soul of the marveling artist, sculptor vanished to
      realms of gold, Michael Rolando Richards]

      ephemera of wings, and a gold paint spilt
      the cardboard outlines conforming to a blueprint
      wrinkled on tissue purpled with

      the outlines of…
      what? a dream come true? a tar blurred view
      an adjustable happenstance seen through

      a something wept for years, and not yet done,
      oh tears of tar
      the half flown years in dun; spun

      into a pearl edged stream of night
      and dawn too heavy to bear the weight

      this is flight, hallowed the angels
      this is time
      and chimed your brethren, out of sight

      and this crossed flight crossed purposed
      now to be

      abandoned due to circumstance so
      thunderstruck, too suddenly askew?
      the black clouds roiling on the horizon

      the gold swallowed whole, the gold swallow. swallow
      where are you we call from the manifest
      having no names when the smoke clears

      debris of starlight everywhere, Archangel o Michael
      new fallen, tears in flames; o morning dew burned up

      the glass heavens
      and our grief.that this is brief, too brief

      till Light itself cried Michael!
      take flight.

      mary angela douglas april 16 2016

  5. maryangeladouglas said,

    April 16, 2016 at 6:35 pm


    on saturdays the realm of freedom widens
    the smell of cut grass in the neighborhood
    the drone of the occasional plane

    from the base overhead
    and we revel in cirrus clouds the cotton candy of them
    the peanut butter and banana sandwiches

    made by our Grandfather’s hand
    and, after chores, the endless ocean ot time
    that holds whatever may come.

    the small dog’s tricks across the kitchen floor
    for the fried chicken to get dropped somehow
    under the table

    and grace to read under the trees and the
    kingdom of home that feels so wide and deep
    even when you do have to straighten the dresser drawers

    for the umpteenth time for they are not neat
    or polish the silver or pick up everything that fell
    from the sky when you danced so hard on the grass outside

    saying this is mine this kingdom of green and blue
    and roses too and the winds the winds through the pines
    and saturday the very emblem of Heaven, someday

    when every day it’s Saturday Forever

    mary angela douglas 16 april 2016

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: