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Blessing the Boats: New and Selected Poems 1988-2000 (American Poets Continuum) Paperback – April 1, 2000
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From Library Journal
-Louis McKee, Painted Bride Arts Ctr., Philadelphia
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Top Customer Reviews
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.
"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.
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. Clifton’s fresh looks at Bible stories were among my favorites. She wrote multiple poems about Lazarus, Adam and Eve, and Lucifer.
Other major themes are the sad state of the world, violence, racism, family, womanhood, aging, and cancer. Amid so much bleakness, her wicked humor brings relief. The funniest to me, is “wishes for sons.” She begins
“i wish them cramps.
i wish them a strange town
and the last tampon.
i wish them no 7-11.”
She continues to wish them hot flashes, cramps, and similar afflictions, and ends
“let them think they have accepted
arrogance in the universe,
then bring them to gynecologists
not unlike themselves.”
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Paul L. McGehee
Clichés are literary sins, so Lord forgive me when I say Lucile Clifton's Blessing the Boats: New and Selected Poems 1988-2000, is...Read more
There's a lot of good stuff in this volume.Read more