NEA Literature Fellowships

Camille Rankine

Back to NEA Literature Fellowships
(2017 - Poetry)


have been the buyer, the bought
  the boy’s blood in the dirt

have been the woman in winter
  the knife of her hunger

have been the knife at her throat

have ravaged and burned, been burned

have been the rope that hangs
  the hands that bind the hands, that set the flame

have been a land cleared by the flame
  a land lit by the moon
  a sky cleared by lit homes

have been a man reduced
  to a body, a body to bones

have emboldened, been made bold

have been uplifted, held
  under, mourned, been mourned

have been a tale told
  and untold

have been a language lost
owning nothing of ourselves

have been a love that dims
  the line drawn between us to remind

have deceived, been taken in

have been destroyed
have been beginning

have been discovery, a new fruit
  growing ripe within our skins

(from Incorrect Merciful Impulses. Copyright (c) 2016 by Camille Rankine.
Used with the permission of Copper Canyon Press)

Camille Rankine is the daughter of Jamaican immigrants. Her first book of poetry, Incorrect Merciful Impulses, was published in 2016 by Copper Canyon Press. She is the author of the chapbook Slow Dance with Trip Wire, selected by Cornelius Eady for the Poetry Society of America's 2010 New York Chapbook Fellowship, and a recipient of a 2010 "Discovery"/Boston Review Poetry Prize. Her poetry has appeared in Atlas Review, American Poet, The Baffler, Boston Review, Denver Quarterly, Gulf Coast, Octopus Magazine, Paper Darts, Phantom Books, A Public Space, Tin House, and elsewhere. She serves on the Executive Committee of VIDA: Women in Literary Arts, is president of the board of The Poetry Project, and lives in New York City.

Photo by Camille Rankine

Art Talk with Camille Rankine

Author's Statement

The incredible surprise of this NEA grant could not have sprung into my life at a better time. 2016 was an eventful year. My first book of poems was released in January. Two months later, I’d left my full-time job and was spending the spring semester shuttling back and forth between my home in New York City and Western Massachusetts, where I was working as a visiting professor at University of Massachusetts Amherst. Since then, I’ve found myself going from one teaching opportunity to another, and traveling frequently for poetry readings. It’s been an exciting time, but also an uncertain one—I’m never sure what my life will look like in six months, where I’ll be headed, or where my paycheck will be coming from. The stress of this sort of existence is hard on the writing life. For me, this grant means a little peace of mind. It means maybe I can slow my hustle to a stroll now and then. It means maybe I can travel, and see places I’ve wished to see for years. It means some measure of calm, and greater possibility. I’m at work on my second book now, and as a writer whose work thrives in moments of quiet, when the world seems most open, I know this grant will make many more poems possible for me.