That is an opening quote from an interview in the Paris Review with author Claudia Rankine. The entire interview, conducted by David Ulin and published in Winter 2016 is worth reading.
Rankine’s poetry focuses on social issues ranging from micro aggression, to racism to the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. To her, words matter. She recounts listening to the recording of the shooting of Philando Castile and hearing the words of the little girl in the backseat of the car say, “It’s okay, Mommy, I’m right here with you.” She talks about the ability of the words to transport her to the point where she is literally experiencing the child and her words.
Rankine is a poet who writes across many formats. She is a writer for social justice. How does that compare with writing mysteries? Should it compare? I’d like to think that it can. Not every page of a 300 page novel will stand up to the scrutiny of a poem. Not every word will achieve a lyrical meaning, but that doesn’t mean we can’t aspire to this.
Words matter has resonated across the country this year for many reasons. Whether high oratory, poetry, or a hastily written note in a lunch box, words matter. As I work on final revisions, where it sometimes feels like there are too many words to care about, I’ll keep this as an aspirational goal even if only means I get it about one third right.
To read the full Rankine interview visit: http://www.theparisreview.org/interviews/6905/claudia-rankine-the-art-of-poetry-no-102-claudia-rankine
(This post originally appeared on MissDemeanors.com)