The poem “Hurricane Katrina” from a collection of poetry called Citizen: An American lyric is a bright example of inventive approach to dealing with topical social themes. Claudia Rankine, the author of the poem, takes quotes from real CNN video about awful disaster of hurricane Katrina and organizes them into an impressing and thought-provoking poetic account of those horrible days after the catastrophe. Specific organizational structure of “Hurricane Katrina,” its tone, and symbols are powerful means of communicating the author’s message to the audience.
Rankine’s idea of taking excerpts from real CNN videos and arranging them into a poem is not radically new as earlier, many authors have also incorporated real texts into their fiction works. However, she has managed to, first of all, create an entire text using quotes, and secondly, add a high degree of expressiveness and metaphoric depth to it. To communicate the message about the horrors of that period, terrible human pain, inaction of the authorities, and many other crucial features of Katrina, the poet splits the text into small sections and focuses on repetition of important elements. The phrase “have you seen (did you see) their faces” is repeated three times in the poem (Rankine, 2014). This line helps the audience to understand that when dealing with such catastrophes, it is important to remember that human life is the most precious thing on earth, so helping people should be the priority of any government. No material damage should be put higher than human tragedies. Moreover, the sentences look jerky and confused as if the speaker who pronounces them is deeply shocked by the tragedy. Rankine (2014) writes, “…one said, climbing over bodies, one said, stranded on a roof…” The form and structure of the sentences also contribute to creation of certain rhythm in the poem as it is written as free verse and does not correspond to any metrical pattern.
The tone of the poem perfectly renders the author’s attitude towards the events happening during and after Hurricane Katrina. Rankine (2014) writes, “you simply get chills every time you see these poor individuals.” This and many other similar sentences tell the audience about a shock that a person is bound to feel looking at repercussions of this catastrophe. However, the poet also feels indignation towards inequalities and discrimination as the aftermath of the hurricane. Rankine (2014) speaks of the “classical binary between the rich and the poor, ….between the whites and the blacks.” She highlights that there have been much racial and social discrimination in the way the authorities react to the disaster. The same approach can be seen in case of important symbols used in the poem. One of the most crucial symbols is obviously water that causes the most destruction and damage, but the idea of drowning (“we are drowning here”) is not only literal (Rankine, 2014). Rankine (2014) argues that people after the hurricane also drown in the abyss of human indifference, “ignorance, lack of intention, misdirection.” She writes, “he said I don’t know what the water wanted. It wanted to show you no one would come” (Rankine, 2014). These impressive metaphoric personifications allow the author to say that even water can let us know how unimportant the lives of the poor people and African Americans have been from the perspective of rich and white elite social classes.
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To conclude, the poem about Hurricane Katrina is a powerful tribute to the terrible days of this disaster. Rankine focused on feelings and emotions of common people and their indignation to the fact that they are almost forgotten by the authorities. To highlight these themes, the poet pays much attention to the tone of the text and the symbols used there. She also structures the poem in a very specific way to better communicate these messages to the audience.