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Perhaps Punishment Was Only About Context: New Issue of Lana Turner

By Harriet Staff


That subject line uses Claudia Rankine writing on Serena Williams at the 2009 US Open (“Be Angry”) for issue #6 of Lana Turner, which’s got in accompaniment poems by Chris Nealon (“Could I just insert here that the question concerning technology doesn’t seem / to me to be the question?”), Lauren Levin, Lyn Hejinian, Alli Warren, Jessica Marsh, Ben Lerner, Michael Palmer, Jessica Laser, Cathy Wagner, Marjorie Welish, Nathaniel Mackey, Tomaž Šalamun (“Raucous black sky, why did you swallow my / proof?”), Joshua Clover, and many more; an excerpt from Alexander Vvedensky’s The Grey Notebook; notes by Mallarmé on Le Livre; Edoardo Sanguineti’s “Essays on the Avant-Garde” (translated by Joel Calahan); reviews of books by Geoffrey G. O’Brien, Rae Armantrout, Susan Wheeler, Lynn Xu, Chris Stackhouse, Lucie Brock-Broido, Paul Legault; and yes it goes seemingly on in strong perpetuity (ow). To circle back, here’s an excerpt from Rankine on Serena:

Watching the eighteen-year-old Serena begin to defeat top women players in 1999 made everyone see tennis as a stage where race-related dynamics play out. What does a victorious or defeated black woman’s body in a historically white space look like? Serena and her big sister Venus Williams brought to mind Zora Neale Hurston’s “I feel most colored when I am thrown against a sharp white background.” This appropriated line, stenciled on stretched canvas by Glenn Ligon, who used plastic letter stencils, smudging oil sticks and graphite to transform the words into abstractions, seemed to be ad copy for some aspect of life for all black women.

However Hurston’s statement manifests it was being played out on the big screen by Serena and Venus: they won sometimes, they lost sometimes, they were injured, they were happy, they were sad, they were ignored, they were booed mightily (see Indian Wells, which both sisters have boycotted since 2001), they were cheered, and through it all and evident to all were those people who were enraged they were there at all—graphite against a sharp white background.

Serena is younger than you are, with a winning record, so for years you attribute to her a kind of resilience appropriate only for those who exist in celluloid. But neither her father nor her mother nor her sister nor Jehovah her God nor NIKE camp could shield her ultimately from people who felt her black body didn’t belong on their court, in their world. From the start many made it clear Serena would have done better struggling to survive in the two dimensionality of a Millet painting than on their tennis court—all that strength put to work working the land, rather than caught up in the turbulence of our age old dramas like a Turner landscape.

Read the full essay at Lana Turner.

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Posted in Poetry News on Friday, November 8th, 2013 by Harriet Staff.