Saturday, October 10, 2020

Review: Lucille Clifton - How to Carry Water (Boa Editions)

We've been reading Lucille Clifton for many good years. Ten years after her death from cancer is a good time to see a new collection of her work - 280 pages of selected poems from her books, along with a few poems that had never appeared. Her Collected Poems remains in print, for those who are completists. 

My first exposure to her work was the tightly constructed "an ordinary woman". This new book gives a good sampling from this book, and does the same for her other classic books, such as "The Book Of Light" and "The Terrible Stories".  Lucille had a very specific style so when the poem appeared on a page you could smile with the familiar tones and say: "yes, I know I will learn from this word master." If you have many of her books, I could still recommend this one for carrying around to quite from, along with the uncollected poems which are included. Breaklight is a favorite from "an ordinary woman:"


light keeps on breaking
i keep knowing
the language of other nations.
i keep hearing
tree talk
water words
and i keep knowing what they mean.
and light just keeps on breaking.
last night
the fears of my mother came
knocking and when i
opened the door
they tried to explain themselves
and i understood
everything they say.

A weaker poet would have called this breakthrough. "Use the common language of the day" is a common MFA mantra. By choosing breaklight Lucille allows us to go so much deeper into the psyche, and into our own past and learn through her language that we can begin to understand ourselves deeper just by listening to these times of light. You'll see her throughout her career in this book selecting exactly the right words to help us as readers understand ourselves, as well as those we come in contact with much better. As with any great poet, I do recommend reading Lucille Clifton aloud - so your eyes, mouth, and ears learn to appreciate her perfect manipulation of language. This is also a book I would recommend giving as a gift to friends who are looking for what poetry can do for our world.

from Terrible Stories:

dear fox

it is not my habit
to squat in the hungry desert
fingering stones, begging them
to heal, not me but the dry mornings
and bitter nights.
it is not your habit
to watch. none of this
is ours, sister fox.
tell yourself that anytime now
we will rise and walk away
from somebody else’s life.
any time. 

Click here to purchase How To Carry Water

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