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Don’t Let Me Be Lonely: An American Lyric

4.15  ·  Rating Details  ·  1,905 Ratings  ·  141 Reviews
In this powerful sequence of TV images and essay, Claudia Rankine explores the personal and political unrest of our volatile new century

I forget things too. It makes me sad. Or it makes
me the saddest. The sadness is not really about
George W. or our American optimism; the
sadness lives in the recognition that a life can
not matter.

The award-winning poet Claudia Rankine, well
Paperback, 155 pages
Published September 1st 2004 by Graywolf Press (first published January 1st 2004)
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Beloved by Toni MorrisonThe Bluest Eye by Toni MorrisonCane by Jean ToomerCitizen by Claudia RankineJazz by Toni Morrison
7th out of 24 books — 21 voters
The Fact of a Doorframe by Adrienne RichDon’t Let Me Be Lonely by Claudia RankineThe Complete Poems by Emily DickinsonHere, Bullet by Brian TurnerWe Walk Alone by Mariah E. Wilson
My Favorite Books of Poetry
2nd out of 75 books — 19 voters

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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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S. Donovan
Mar 30, 2008 S. Donovan rated it really liked it
Shelves: poetry
As a literary genre still fighting for an ironic legitimacy, prose poetry received a Hail Mary the length of Doug Flutie's 1986 game-winning touchdown pass when Claudia Rankine published this book.

Not since I first discovered Baudelaire or Carolyn Forché have I felt I understood what "real" or "good" prose poetry is, or could become, until reading "Don't Let Me Be Lonely."

Many L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E/prose poetry authors once railed against the rigidity and creative bankruptcy of a standardized academi
MJ Nicholls
Nov 15, 2011 MJ Nicholls rated it really liked it
Shelves: merkins, poems, distaff
Perhaps a little dated, but if a poet can’t wax about the world now, or then, or now as it was then, what world are we living in? We’re not living in the world now, thassfursure, we’re living in the world then. When topical poems were out. (When this then is, I am uncertain. But let it be said poems about eating cheese in 1907 are hardly taught on campuses—or is it campi?) Anywho. This brisk series of prose-poems or prose lyrics ruminates coolly on contemporary America: scraping away at the dark ...more
Aug 20, 2010 unnarrator rated it really liked it
Ah, you win, Claudia, for what's basically eighteen blogposts bound up as a book. You might have even gotten 5 stars out of me if it weren't for your ending, which didn't wrap back around to the personal in any way I found satisfying, but was probably meant to be some big-hearted opening out into the political, and I'm at fault as a reader for not respecting that, but it felt tacked on. Like, you just exited throwing a few quotations over your shoulder. Don't get me wrong I'm all FOR Fanny Howe ...more
Sep 07, 2012 Roxane rated it it was amazing
If I could, I would give this book ten stars. It is an amazing, lyrical meditation on loneliness, death, and American after 9/11 with an interesting thread throughout about pharmaceuticals and mental health. This is a superlative book of prose poetry. I found myself marking nearly every page with an idea or moment or phrase I never want to forget.

Nicholas Ochiel
Dec 29, 2014 Nicholas Ochiel rated it liked it
A sustained, unrelenting, unremitting meditation on death, deadness, aloneness, loneliness, dying, dyingness, abandonment, loss, mourning, and grieving.

I find myself looking, amidst all this overmedicated morbidity, for a sign of life, but I don't find it, at least not in this text. It's all tragic and melancholy without the glimmer of light that gives darkness meaning. The darkness here is absolute.

But I have known lovers who — and this book is assuredly for them — are wildly enthusiastic about
Apr 23, 2013 Laura rated it it was amazing
Shelves: poetry, favorites
This book functions so beautifully as a whole, a genre of its own.

. . . Perhaps we
are not responsible for the lives of our parents--not in
our pores or our very breath. We can expect. We can re-
solve. We can come to terms with. Afterwards we wear
their clothing, sit in their chairs, and remember them.
Profoundly remember them. But we are not responsible. (63)

Cancer slowly settled into her body and lived off it until
it, her body, became useless to itself. A hell of a way
to lose weight, she says whe
Apr 09, 2014 Rachel rated it it was amazing
Really great construction and writing. It is also a great page-turner and the perfect balm for unquestioned joy. That is not to say that I didn't enjoy it and appreciate it, merely that reading it should probably be done with some sound self-judgement.

Rankine explores the commonplace attributes that form constellations within and around American lives. Expounded are broad themes of death and loneliness and specificity within depression, medication, television, race, and relationships. Though the
Liz Shine
May 30, 2016 Liz Shine rated it really liked it
My book group picked Citizen for the month of May. One unusually sunny April weekend day, I was bopping around Powell's dreaming of leisurely summer reads when I came across Don't Let Me Be Lonely (published in 2004) in the new books, used prices section. I noticed the subtitle is also "An American Lyric" and I thought, hmmm, I should read this one too and I should read it first. So, I did, and now I have less than a week to read the book we are actually discussing. This doesn't worry me since I ...more
Jim Elkins
Mar 26, 2016 Jim Elkins rated it did not like it
Shelves: american
The rating is just for the use of images: I am researching the theory and history of books written with images. (

"Citizen" raises different issues. (The review is elsewhere on this site.) In "Don't Let Me Be Lonely" the use of images seems mnemonic, evidentiary, decorative, offhanded, generic, unformatted, and therefore almost always uninteresting. In order:

1. Mnemonic: the many images of people Rankine describes, such as Abner Louima, Johnny Cochrane, Amadou Diallo (pp. 56
Ryan Smith
Jul 02, 2008 Ryan Smith rated it did not like it
I'll be the first to admit my personal bias and taste severely hindered my enjoyment of this book, which comes down to this:

To me, the only thing as equally annoying as sentimentality in poetry is political engagement, and this book had both.
May 27, 2015 Rebecca rated it it was amazing
!!!!!!!!!!!! 10/5 stars
Maya Smart
Dec 14, 2015 Maya Smart rated it liked it
“Don’t Let Me Be Lonely” is an evocative exploration of loss. The book of poetry and prose vignettes opens with author Claudia Rankine as a child witnessing her father looking flooded, leaking, breaking, broken. He was grieving his own mother’s death, and Rankine climbed the stairs as far from him as she could, distancing herself from his unfamiliar expression.

“He looked to me like someone understanding his aloneness,” she writes.

The rest of the book ranges over the territory of loneliness–mour
Peter Rock
Aug 11, 2014 Peter Rock rated it really liked it
Best title ever.

I may read it again right NOW. I felt like the first half was really solid, but the second half killed me. It really all came together and started to vibrate in the air and in my solar plexus.

Some passages that resonated with me:

“In a taxi speeding uptown on the West Side Highway, I let my thoughts drift below the surface of the Hudson until it finally occurs to me that feelings fill the gaps created by the indirectness of experience. Though the experience is social, thoughts car
Roz Ito
Sep 08, 2011 Roz Ito rated it it was amazing
Shelves: poetry, memoir, theory
Claudia Rankine’s Don’t Let Me Be Lonely is in many ways a meditation on how we desperately need the Romantic poetic spirit now more than ever. The book is subtitled “An American Lyric,” and that is an apt description for it, the paradox of the lyric (traditionally private & individual) as spoken through the communal. I think Rankine is making an ethical call here that favors the communal lyric over the communal epic. This book was published in 2004, after 9/11 and the start of the wars in I ...more
Jun 16, 2012 Jeff rated it really liked it
This sad, querulous book, a collaboration between the poet Claudia Rankine, and her husband, the photographer John Lucas, is in places movingly undefended and raises the whole specter of sincerity in poetry, since it's at tremendous pains to expose the American aversion to death, as this evinces itself in our war against Iraq as well as in Rankine's insistent need (twenty-two pages of expository notes -- in small print!) to warrant her reader in the cultural terrain she needs for herself to work ...more
Dec 08, 2008 rated it it was amazing
There are little televisions throughout Don't Let Me Be Lonely. Really. Little photographs of televisions, sometimes depicting widely broadcast images from the news, sometimes only static, are interspersed throughout this long prose poem. The images come as a slight shock at first — poetry arguably being the antithesis of television — but as Rankine's compelling narrative voice navigates the images, the sound bites, the advertisements, and the inevitable detritus, the televisions become symbols ...more
Jun 09, 2009 Craig rated it really liked it
Shelves: poetry-favorites
Part essay, part prose poetry, part rambling autobiography, part cultural critique.

Reading all of the reviews here on goodreads, perhaps enough has been said about this book to convince you of what it is, of whether you would like it.

For me, I felt at home in it. I felt like a friend was listening, talking to me deep into the night over a few shots of whiskey about lost hopes and promises. About what we keep to ourselves...

Sure, the book is overtly political, even overtly sentimental at points.
Sep 03, 2015 Brian rated it really liked it
Some will say: "This doesn't look like poetry to me..." And, sometimes, it doesn't. But it always feels like poetry:
"Or last year this close friend was in the depression of his life. He had to take a medical leave from his job as a speechwriter. He could barely get out of bed. That's what he said so he might have meant he wasn't getting out of bed. He said her felt like an old may dying, the old man dying. The leaves on the trees outside his window rattled within him."
Treat yourself to some Clau
Ralowe Ampu
Dec 27, 2013 Ralowe Ampu rated it it was amazing
i'm borrowing this book and i don't want to give it back. i remember a time when i used to hate any poetry outside of rap music. but poetry is where you can do experimental prose and essay. i have to hang up my anti-poetry chops. you can resist narrative. you can chip away at the numbing opacity until you hit elusive subtleties and then you're talking about something you probably wouldn't be able to get away with talking about in any other format. it's been well established that poetry is the go ...more
Didi Chang-Park
Mar 06, 2016 Didi Chang-Park rated it really liked it
lovely lovely this issue of loneliness and presence and absence and sadness is the core of myself i must explore further thank you rankine i still don't resonate entirely with the form of the american lyric it isn't quite my language but i still love the things that went into this
Jul 08, 2015 Adam rated it really liked it
I get the sense that prose poetry is often viewed as the red-headed stepchild of "real" poetry, but this book proves this stereotype wrong by kicking open kicking down the doors for a genre that can approach plateaus that poetry, essay writing, and fiction cannot easily arrive at alone. Part political indictment of post-9/11 Bush-led America and part reflection on the inherent loneliness of the American outsider, this work achieves perfection within its time period (2004), but is unfortunately n ...more
Mar 08, 2015 Aylen rated it really liked it
We need more writing like this - form-breaking, lyrical, coming from the borderlands of prose and poetry and the perspective of form as well as content - in the hands of readers. Reasons why I'm giving this four stars instead of five: The tired trope of commercials for anti-depressant medications is - well, tired - it seems every nonfiction writer and standup comedian has made similar commentary in the past ten years, and that small part to me (which felt cliched) really distracted from the orig ...more
Sep 06, 2007 Ching-In rated it it was amazing
Although it was hard for me to make sense of it at the beginning, this book grew on me as I read through it. By the end, I realized it had changed my perspective on what is possible in poetry through the accumulation of strange bits and pieces of information, an overwhelming effect, but it also profoundly changed the way I was thinking about a writing project of mine. Definitely worth reading even if you feel you have to force yourself to wade through.
Apr 07, 2015 Ben rated it really liked it
Sometimes you read something and a thought that was floating around in your veins organizes itself into the sentence that reflects it. This might also be a form of dreaming.

Or I remember that the last two sentences I read in Fanny Howe's Tis of Thee before falling asleep the previous night were: "I learned to renounce a sense of independence by degrees and finally felt defeated by the times I lived in. Obedient to them."

Or, well, I tried to fit language into the shape of usefulness. The world mo
Andrew Hathaway
Sep 08, 2014 Andrew Hathaway rated it really liked it
I like when authors try to catalog their emotions in systems using media as a reference point. Visually it's one of Atom Egoyan's running motif's throughout his early films. For the written world, it's difficult to experience that fragmentary connection with a commercial or television slot in an emotional and intellectual sense.

Rankine's lyric essay is so potent partly because of the way she plays with the construction of her book, giving each grouping of thoughts and sensations their own block
Gabriel Oak
Jun 10, 2014 Gabriel Oak rated it it was amazing
Shelves: poetry-and-drama
Here's a book that richly rewards re-reading. I'm just starting on this, my third time through, to see the complex unity of the entire work. Rankine clearly signals her place within vanguardist poetic traditions, referring to such poets as Paul Celan, Gertrude Stein, Myung Mi Kim, and Rosmarie Waldrop throughout the book. But this book's relationship to vanguard poetry is an uneasy one. It takes up some of the themes and practices of those poetry--Stein-ian repetition, especially, is a heavy inf ...more
Elizabeth Willis
Jan 05, 2016 Elizabeth Willis rated it really liked it
A moving and thought-provoking meditation on the nature of human connection and isolation. Rankine asks: "How are we responsible for others?" (and especially, how should we interact with the pain of those around us?).
Nov 28, 2015 Ellie rated it it was amazing
I will write a longer review when I have some time but this book is, as is every other book I've read by Rankine, seriously compelling. The language is exquisite and the examination of life in America (in 2003) powerful. I can't wait to read this book again, along with every other book Rankine has written.
Laurel L. Perez
Apr 16, 2014 Laurel L. Perez rated it it was amazing
Having just this moment finished this beautiful compilation of lyric, essay, poem, and image I am reeling. I feel as if I will be ruminating on this work, content, and ultimately Rankine's sharp focus on contemporary America for a long time. Though it has been a few years since this came out, the issues explored are still frighteningly relevant. This is not your average poetry chapbook, and there are moments that while reading I gasped and found it difficult to breath. Rankine eloquently points ...more
Jul 23, 2007 Steven rated it it was amazing
Shelves: faves
I've read this book twice now and continue to shamelessly reccomend it to everyone that has eyes! I think this is Rankine at her best. She has a lot of room to play as well as pull punches. It's difficult for me to imagine the time that existed prior to me reading this book.
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Claudia Rankine is an American poet and playwright born in 1963 and raised in Kingston, Jamaica and New York City. She has taught at Case Western Reserve University, Barnard College, University of Georgia, and in the writing program at the University of Houston. As of 2011, Rankine is the Henry G. Lee Professor of Poetry at Pomona College.
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“Sad is one of those words that has given up its life for our country, it's been a martyr for the American dream, it's been neutralized, co-opted by our culture to suggest a tinge of discomfort that lasts the time it takes for this and then for that to happen, the time it takes to change a channel. But sadness is real because once it meant something real. It meant dignified, grave; it meant trustworthy; it meant exceptionally bad, deplorable, shameful; it meant massive, weighty, forming a compact body; it meant falling heavily; and it meant of a color: dark. It meant dark in color, to darken. It meant me. I felt sad.” 4 likes
“Or one meaning of here is “in this world, in this life, on earth. In this place or position, indicating the presence of,” or in other words, I am here. It also means to hand something to somebody—Here you are. Here, he said to her. Here both recognizes and demands recognition. I see you, or here, he said to her. In order for something to be handed over a hand must extend and a hand must receive. We must both be here in this world in this life in this place indicating the presence of.” 4 likes
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