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In the Language of My Captor
Shane McCrae

Wesleyan Poetry Series

2017 • 108 pp. 6 x 9"

$24.95 Hardcover, 978-0-8195-7711-5

$19.99 Ebook, 978-0-8195-7713-9

Check your ebook retailer or local library for ebook availability.

“His language remains as stark as the perdurable, terrible history it contains — a history that is not over yet.”—Stephanie Burt, New York Times Book Review

Poems about captivity, escape, and the possibility of freedom - Finalist for the 2017 National Book Award for Poetry

Acclaimed poet Shane McCrae’s latest collection is a book about freedom told through stories of captivity. Historical persona poems and a prose memoir at the center of the book address the illusory freedom of both black and white Americans. In the book’s three sequences, McCrae explores the role mass entertainment plays in oppression, he confronts the myth that freedom can be based upon the power to dominate others, and, in poems about the mixed-race child adopted by Jefferson Davis in the last year of the Civil War, he interrogates the infrequently examined connections between racism and love. A reader’s companion is available at

Click here for TABLE OF CONTENTS

Reviews / Endorsements

“[A]n astonishingly precise account of a complex emotional past.”
—Ryo Yamaguchi, Boston Review

“McCrae continues his confrontations with American racism in his superb … fifth collection. With a raw honesty, McCrae refuses to shy away from the effects of oppression and faces up to those not willing to acknowledge their part in a history many want to forget.”—Publishers Weekly

“[In the Language of My Captor] impl[ies] an audience other than the captor, someone who might hear his description of the captivity—spoken, it seems, in the language of his captivity—and understand.”—Jonathan Farmer, Kenyon Review

“As I read Shane McCrae's In the Language of My Captor, I thought of the Romanian poet Paul Celan.”
—Valerie Duff-Strautmann, Salamander

“McCrae is a flexible, experimental poet investigating the way history lays over (and under) the present moment.”
—Emily Temple, LitHub

“In this fifth collection, Shane McCrae has created a masterful hybrid that at once revels in the lyric and mocks it for its failures. What good is knowing the language of the oppressor, the jailor, In the Language of My Captor seems to ask, when articulation can’t enact liberation? The voices in this book create a landscape, indeed a village, haunted by abandon, intrusion, imprisonment and determinacy. In the vein of Robert Lowell and in conversation with poets such as Anne Carson and M. NourbeSe Philip, the poems in Language explore revelation, through juxtaposed narrative and situation, in a way that has kind of ruined me. The part I can’t quite put into words is how much this book means to me.” —francine harris

“Out of personal history, out of the history of an enduringly fractured nation, and out of the deep history of language, Shane McCrae is writing the most urgent, electric poems of his generation. A collection of love and rage, of vision and brilliant craft, In the Language of My Captor is the book America needs now.” —Garth Greenwell, author of What Belongs to You

“On the great subject of our era – the history of race in America – add this beautiful book to your list of essential reading. For searing clarity combined with supplest humanity, In the Language of My Captor is second to none. Masterfully weaving the voices of a contemporary narrator, an actor from the so-called golden age of Hollywood, a speaker exhibited behind bars, and the historical figure of “Jim Limber the Adopted Son of Jefferson Davis,” Shane McCrae traces the painful evolution of subjectivity under the sign of racial division. With exquisite moral and musical calibration, he mines the eloquence of unembellished American speech. In addition to their other virtues – and they are legion – these poems afford a master class in the powers of lyric compression.”Linda Gregerson, author of Prodigal: New and Selected Poems, 1976 to 2014

From the Book:

Privacy 2

I tell the keeper I don’t know

What he or any white man means

When he says privacy


In the phrase In the privacy

Of one’s own home / I understand

he thinks he means a kind of

Militarized aloneness

If he would listen I would ask him whether

The power / To enforce alone-

ness and aloneness

can exist together

Instead I tell him where I’m from we

Have no such con-

cept if he thinks I am / Too wise

he won’t speak honestly

And so I talk the way the men

He says are men like me

Talk in the books he reads to me

I understand

These books are not supposed to make me wise

And yet I think perhaps

They show me what he means

By privacy // Perhaps

by privacy he means / This

certainty he has that

The weapons he has made

Will not be used against him


Short-Listed for the National Book Award for Poetry (2017)
Winner of the Lannan Literary Award for Poetry (2017)
Short-Listed for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize (2018)
Winner of the Anisfield-Wolf Book Award for Poetry (2018)
Short-listed for the William Carlos Williams Award (2018)

SHANE MCCRAE is the author of four books of poetry including The Animal Too Big to Kill, Mule, Forgiveness Forgiveness, and Blood. He lives in Oberlin, Ohio.

Sat, 20 Oct 2018 15:56:56 -0500