The poetry of Lucille Clifton is engaging enough to win over any reader.
If you missed The Collected Poems of Lucille Clifton 1965-2010, published earlier this year, do yourself a favor and buy a copy of this stellar and important volume. Included among the more than 700 pages are all 11 of Clifton’s published books, 69 unpublished poems, a foreword by Toni Morrison, and a brilliant analysis of Clifton’s work by prize-winning poet Kevin Young, who co-edited the work with Michael S. Glaser, Clifton’s friend and colleague for many years at St. Mary’s College. Each of those elements contributes wonderfully to this essential collection.
Toni Morrison’s brief introduction mirrors the clarity and incisiveness of Clifton’s writing, a fitting way to open. Morrison explains that readers love Clifton’s poetry because it “sifts the history of African Americans for honor,” “plumbs that history for justice,” travels “from humor to love to rage,” and offers “raucous delight” and “wide love.” Morrison also praises Clifton’s lyricism, courage, vision, and joy before emphasizing two qualities that many readers overlook: Clifton’s “piercing insight and bracing intelligence.”
That insight and intelligence are obvious throughout the collection, which opens with unpublished poems that show a young Clifton claiming her voice and subject matter, as in the second section of “To Mama too late” (page 18). Here, Clifton speaks to and for her mother, who burned her own poems because of the disapproval of her husband, who, as later poems reveal, molested Lucille as a child: