Emerge-Surface-Be Fellow Rangi McNeil, Introduced by Edwin Torres

Rangi McNeil, 2013 Emerge-Surface-Be Fellow, read at The Poetry Project on January 13, 2014. His mentor for the program, Edwin Torres, introduced him. Here is the introduction and video of his reading!


Rangi McNeil was born in Laurinburg, NC & educated at Rice University & Columbia University School of the Arts. His first book, The Missing, was published in 2003. He currently lives in Brooklyn.

Of the many things I’ve learned from Rangi McNeil over the course of this mentorship, key among them has been trust. We’d meet over the last year and invariably cover the artifacts of daily life that infiltrate your typical Gemini…both of us encumbered with a duality we bear. Always punctual, focused, a gazelle motoring through the crowd, he easily stood out from far away. Our meetings would spread over time, between schedules, life events…the year was a challenging beast to manage, yet we knew the connection was intact.

To be regarded as a mentor stirs up unexpected recollections connected to your own life-teachers — the act of walking someone through a minefield is not to be taken lightly. I felt great generosity with all parties involved; The Poetry Project, Stacy Szymaszek guiding this mentorship program and letting it develop organically, and of course Rangi. His trust in me with his work, with the time whenever we could meet — him living in Brooklyn, me upstate in Beacon — his openness yet solid rootedness, which was wholly evident in the body of his poems.

Trust — to allow the poem space to do its job of conveying the moment, with clarity and little superfluous obstacle — great trust and confidence in the tightly packed structure of his lines — in the open territory…of page, of land, of story. The trust in the work to let the reader return where they need to.

I had mentioned to him that it seems as though he’s writing his life in screenplay, that is, each poem collected together has a narrative drive, elegantly played out with a carefully distilled language — a graceful intent, to not get in the poem’s way. However, we have here an unmistakably human grace, aware of its ability to fail — an antiquated notion of etiquette within the obstacles we bear.

Maybe it’s a discerning etiquette, befitting a New Yorker’s sense of nobility, and I say that with no irony — as a true New Yorker I know the real deal. The biting humor cutting through a humility that Rangi laces with home-grown virtues that bring him back to family. The poems flow with visceral inertia, loyal to the haunting desparities of a barren landscape, at once filled with evocative color then taken away — in a brutal sort of truth-echo.

The questions to ask are the ones that spill from what you’re given — from the action of allowing the raw peel its consequence to unfurl, to be heard. Rangi McNeil understands that particular sense of allowing, those gifts that hide within poetry’s lair, the ones pulled from heresy and heart.