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Blessing the Boats: New and Selected Poems 1988-2000 (American Poets Continuum) Paperback – April 1, 2000

4.5 out of 5 stars 15 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Library Journal

Clifton's poems owe a great deal to oral tradition. Her work is wonderfully musical and benefits greatly from being read aloud: "It is hard to remain human on a day/ when birds perch weeping/ in the trees and the squirrel eyes/ do not look away but the dog ones do/ in pity." Her keen sense of rhythm, of the sound, tone, and texture of words, is delightful, a rare find in this day and age. The language is crystal clear and deceptively accessible. The poems are personal, but the distant thunder of history rumbles behind every line. As she says on seeing a photograph: "is it the cut glass/ of their eyes/ looking up toward/ the new gnarled branch/ of the black man/ hanging from a tree?" Clifton's work hearkens back to the days of the Black Arts Movement and sheds light on the new black aesthetic. These are economical slices of ordinary life, celebrations, if you will, of African American existence. With simple language and common sense, she writes of grace, character, and race by way of the personal and familiar. Clifton's voice, her unique vision and wisdom, make this book essential for any serious poetry collection.
-Louis McKee, Painted Bride Arts Ctr., Philadelphia
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.

About the Author

Lucille Clifton won the 2007 Ruth Lilly Poetry Award. Her book, Blessing the Boats (BOA Editions), won the 2000 National Book Award for Poetry. Two of Clifton's BOA poetry collections were chosen as finalists for the Pulitzer Prize in 1988. Clifton's awards include fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and an Emmy Award.
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The latest book club pick from Oprah
"The Underground Railroad" by Colson Whitehead is a magnificent novel chronicling a young slave's adventures as she makes a desperate bid for freedom in the antebellum South. See more

Product Details

  • Series: American Poets Continuum (Book 59)
  • Paperback: 145 pages
  • Publisher: BOA Editions Ltd. (April 1, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1880238888
  • ISBN-13: 978-1880238882
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.5 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #138,327 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
Clifton's poems enter sacred places, not only by their subject matter (human suffering at biblical proportions, or biblical suffering at human proportions), but because of their method of engagement--a direct and immediate engagement with what is "human."
The section of new poems (which begins the book) opens with a devastating poem about recent school shootings, and continues with poems more blisteringly honest and raw (if such can even be conceived by long time readers!) than any Clifton has written before. Some of the previous themes (childhood abuse, cancer, biblical re-tellings) are re-visited at such an excruciating level of intensity, that one thinks Clifton is preparing to leave certain subjects (for a time, perhaps) and launch herself into the next great "Era" of her writing life.
The book is a book of transformations, of all the "boats" in our lives, that carry us from place to place, and we are blessed indeed to be accompanied on our long journeys by Lucille Clifton.
The nineteen new poems are followed by sixteen from "Next," twenty three from "Quilting," fifteen from "the book of ligtht," and eighteen from "the terrible stories." Clifton's book are assembled so artfully as books that it is hard to imagine how she (or her editor) made the choices for the volume. In the end, they prioritized cohesivesness as a volume, choosing whole sequences from the earlier books, rather than the "Greatest Hits" approach. The result is that some readers (including this humble one) may find some favorite poems from the earlier volumes missing, (this is particularly true of the choices from "Next") but the the book, in and of itself has its own true spirit.
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Format: Paperback
I have admired Lucille Clifton's clear, strong poetic voice for many years, and I was really impressed by her book "Blessing the Boats: New and Selected Poems 1988-2000." Clifton covers a lot of ground in this collection: racial violence, surviving cancer, language, drug addiction, the female body, and more. There are many poems inspired by biblical characters. Some highlights are as follows:
"Sorrow Song": a global vision of human evil and suffering. "female": a poem that declares "there is an amazon in us." "shapeshifter poems": a powerful sequence. "here be dragons": a poem that begins "So many languages have fallen / off the edge of the world / into the dragon's mouth." I also loved the poems that celebrate (and sometimes mourn) the female body: "poem in praise of menstruation," "poem to my uterus," "to my last period," etc.
When she's at her strongest, Clifton attains a truly prophetic quality. I recommend this book both to those who've read and loved her for years as well as to newcomers to this important poetic voice. If you like Clifton, I also recommend the writings of June Jordan and Audre Lorde.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I’d seen Lucille Clifton read a few poems on TV and You Tube, but I hadn’t yet read any of her books. I knew “Homage to My Hips,” so I expected some sassy feminism. She did give me sass, wit, feminism, and so much more. I was expecting her to remind me of Maya Angelou, but I found her a bit more like Langston Hughes, who helped promote her work when she was a young writer. I often think “wow,” when I read a favorite author, but, in Clifton’s case, I was saying, “Wow!” aloud.

She writes with the economy of words I most admire in poetry. Even with musical repetition in just the right spots, her poems rarely go beyond 20 lines. Her poems even look simple: short lines, often in lower case with no punctuation. That’s where simplicity stops. By the end of a poem, she’s either waved a magic wand over you or struck you with a sledge hammer. I am in awe.

Her genius often comes down to one word, the right word, the one you likely would not have chosen. Often those single perfect words were the ones that stopped me, made me read the line again, and mark it in pencil. Here are a couple that had that effect:

In “what i think when i ride the train” (about her father who worked for the railroad):

“he made the best damn couplers
in the whole white world.”

“White” is the perfect near-rhyme to replace the expected “wide.” It lets us read between the lines (without having to rant) that her daddy worked hard, saved lives, and didn’t get the recognition and pay he deserved.

In “Lazarus (second day),”

“i am not the same man
borne into the crypt.”

“Borne” reminds us that death and birth are opposites and also hints at what we know is coming: Lazarus will be born again.
Read more ›
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Some books excel beyond the 5-star limit offered here. This is one of them. Lucille Clifton has a magical, inexplicable way bring the most unpoetic subjects to life--including incest, racism, Lucifer, Eve, and the human body. Clifton's poems exude truth and she isn't afraid to write from the somewhat underrepresented perspective of an African American woman. Even the poems that seem to have a narrow audience (Wishes for Sons, To my Last Period) manage to have a universal quality about them. I've been extremely fortunate to hear her read twice--the only thing that improves upon the purchase of this book is hearing the sublime Ms. Clifton in person. Her voice captivates and reasonates from the pages of her books. Anyone who finds these poems offensive should consider the element of truth in each and every one of them.
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