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The Collected Poems of Lucille Clifton, 1965-2010

The Collected Poems of Lucille Clifton, 1965-2010

by Lucille Clifton, Toni Morrison (Foreword by), Kevin Young (Editor), Michael S. Glaser (Editor)

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Winner of the 2013 Hurston/Wright Legacy Award for Poetry

"The Collected Poems of Lucille Clifton 1965-2010 may be the most important book of poetry to appear in years."--Publishers Weekly

"All poetry readers will want to own this book; almost everything is in it."--Publishers Weekly

"If you only read one poetry book in 2012,


Winner of the 2013 Hurston/Wright Legacy Award for Poetry

"The Collected Poems of Lucille Clifton 1965-2010 may be the most important book of poetry to appear in years."--Publishers Weekly

"All poetry readers will want to own this book; almost everything is in it."--Publishers Weekly

"If you only read one poetry book in 2012, The Collected Poems of Lucille Clifton ought to be it."—NPR

"The 'Collected Clifton' is a gift, not just for her fans...but for all of us."--The Washington Post

"The love readers feel for Lucille Clifton—both the woman and her poetry—is constant and deeply felt. The lines that surface most frequently in praise of her work and her person are moving declarations of racial pride, courage, steadfastness."—Toni Morrison, from the Foreword

The Collected Poems of Lucille Clifton 1965–2010 combines all eleven of Lucille Clifton's published collections with more than fifty previously unpublished poems. The unpublished poems feature early poems from 1965–1969, a collection-in-progress titled the book of days (2008), and a poignant selection of final poems. An insightful foreword by Nobel Prize–winning author Toni Morrison and comprehensive afterword by noted poet Kevin Young frames Clifton's lifetime body of work, providing the definitive statement about this major America poet's career.

On February 13, 2010, the poetry world lost one of its most distinguished members with the passing of Lucille Clifton. In the last year of her life, she was named the first African American woman to receive the $100,000 Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize honoring a US poet whose "lifetime accomplishments warrant extraordinary recognition," and was posthumously awarded the Robert Frost Medal for lifetime achievement from the Poetry Society of America.

"mother-tongue: to man-kind" (from the unpublished the book of days):

all that I am asking is
that you see me as something
more than a common occurrence,
more than a woman in her ordinary skin.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Clifton (1936–2010) was undeniably a major American poet; her poems, best known for their expressions of feminist ideals, African-American history and contemporary life, and intimate family life, cover a vast array of human experiences, as this surprisingly large complete volume attests. The average Clifton poem isn’t quite half a page long, and most of her books were slim indeed, so it is nothing short of astounding to find that she wrote quite this much. Luckily she did, for here is a formidable life’s work. From the earliest poems collected here, we see the familial merged seamlessly with the political, the general woven with the homespun, “certainty” sought and found in “the truth of potatoes/ steaming the panes and/ butter/ gold and predictable as/ heroes in history.” Some poems, like “after kent state” roil with anger and fierce identification—”white ways are/ the way of death/ come into the black/ and live”—while others, like “earth” take in an almost biblically panoramic view in just a few lines: “it bore varicolored/ flowers children bees/ all this used to be a/ place once all this/ was a nice place/ once.” Clifton was a master of minimalism and understatement, able to use techniques that would fail utterly in lesser poets’ hands—single-word lines, no punctuation or capital letters, the lowercase “i” as a pronoun—to startling effect, even when she’s just writing about the trials of being a poet, as in “after the reading” (“i throw myself into/ Howard Johnson’s bed/ and long for home,/ that sad mysterious country/ where nobody notices/ a word I say”), or about undergoing treatment for cancer, as in “lumpectomy eve”: “love calls you to this knife/ for love for love// all night it is the one breast/ comforting the other.” Elsewhere, Clifton could spin a timeless myth out of a few stark lines: “in the dream of foxes/ there is a field/ and a procession of women/ clean as good children.” All poetry readers will want to own this book; almost everything is in it. (Sept.)
From the Publisher

“From the earliest poems collected here, we see the familial merged seamlessly with the political, the general woven with the homespun…All poetry readers will want to own this book; almost everything is in it.”—Publishers Weekly

“If there is any doubt that Lucille Clifton (1963-2010) was one of the powerfully original poetic voices of our time, this volume should dispel it. Poem after poem, book after book, that varied but ever vigorous voice sang fearlessly and gracefully… Clifton’s was a multifarious intelligence that could at times seem otherworldly; she inhabited and was attentive to both physical and spiritual plains; she spoke with the dead and the living with confidence. While her work could be contemporary and personal, she was often drawn to tell and retell ancient tales… She was an enlightened and enlightening poet, and this collection shines a welcome light on her work.” —Open Books: A Poem Emporium

A selection for Ms. Magazine's 2012 Best Books by Women, The Collected Poems of Lucille Clifton 1965-2010 is a "welcome anthology, representative of more than 40 years of Clifton’s writing. If you’re not yet familiar with Clifton’s incredible mix of the familial and the political, this is one book you need right now.” —Ms. Magazine

"What is so valuable is that she goes directly and not without anger and confusion into these life-and-death matters, allowing the reader to empathize, and share, in her recognition that survival is a triumph. What is even more valuable is that she recognizes that the reader too survives … When Clifton writes such poems, she is among the very few true poets of our times.”—The Nation

Library Journal
"Who/ among us can imagine ourselves/ unimagined"? asks National Book Award winner Clifton, invoking "lost people" and "lost poems" that have fallen off the map into the mouths of dragons. The author of 18 children's books as well as this substantial body of poems, Clifton (who died in 2010) imagined for those who couldn't or wouldn't—the racist, the incestuous father, the victim, the tired, the poor, the overlooked, the dead, and her own buried self. Here are all the poems she published during her lifetime, in books and in journals, as well as some unpublished material from her archives at Emory University. Like many of these pieces, "Black Women" is an exercise in conceptual and linguistic contrast that makes startling use of the neologism: "America made us heroines/ not wives./ We hid our ladiness/ to save our lives." All the poems are filled with the people in Clifton's life. "When you poem this," says the speaker's sister, a well-read prostitute, "remember the book of Job." But to this dead sufferer she responds, "may heaven be filled/ with literate men/ may they bed you/ with respect." VERDICT For all collections, although some readers might prefer to begin with Blessing the Boats: New and Collected Poems, 1988–2000.—Ellen Kaufman, New York
The Washington Post
Clifton was a prolific, always interesting, sometimes fascinating poet, and her Collected Poems is a gift, not just for her fans—although they will surely appreciate having the previously uncollected work—but for all of us.
—Troy Jollimore

Product Details

BOA Editions, Ltd.
Publication date:
American Poets Continuum
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
6.52(w) x 9.08(h) x 2.14(d)

Meet the Author

Lucille Clifton: Lucille Clifton was born in Depew, New York, on June 27, 1936. Her first book of poems, Good Times, was rated one of the best books of the year by the New York Times in 1969.

Clifton remained employed in state and federal government positions until 1971, when she became a writer in residence at Coppin State College in Baltimore, Maryland, where she completed two collections: Good News About the Earth (1972) and An Ordinary Woman (1974).

She went on to write several other collections of poetry, including Voices (BOA Editions, 2008); Mercy (2004); Blessing the Boats: New and Selected Poems 1988-2000 (2000), which won the National Book Award; The Terrible Stories (1995), which was nominated for the National Book Award; The Book of Light (1993); Quilting: Poems 1987-1990 (1991); Next: New Poems (1987)

Her collection Good Woman: Poems and a Memoir 1969-1980 (1987) was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize; Two-Headed Woman (1980), also a Pulitzer Prize nominee, was the recipient of the University of Massachusetts Press Juniper Prize. She has also written Generations: A Memoir (1976) and more than sixteen books for children, written expressly for an African-American audience.

Lucille Clifton's honors include an Emmy Award from the American Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, a Lannan Literary Award, two fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Shelley Memorial Award, the YM-YWHA Poetry Center Discovery Award, and the 2007 Ruth Lilly Prize.

In 1999, she was elected a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets. She served as Poet Laureate for the State of Maryland and Distinguished Professor of Humanities at St. Mary's College of Maryland.

After a long battle with cancer, Lucille Clifton died on February 13, 2010, at the age of 73.

Toni Morrison: Toni Morrison is a Nobel Prize and Pulitzer Prize-winning American novelist, editor, and professor. Among her best known novels are The Bluest Eye, Song of Solomon and Beloved.

Kevin Young: Kevin Young is the author of seven books of poetry, most recently Ardency: A Chronicle of the Amistad Rebellion, out from Knopf in January 2011. His Jelly Roll: A Blues, was a finalist for the National Book Award and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize, and winner of the Paterson Poetry Prize. He is the editor of five volumes, including 2010's The Art of Losing: Poems of Grief and Healing; his book The Grey Album: Music, Shadows, Lies won the 2010 Graywolf Nonfiction Prize and is forthcoming in 2012. He is the Atticus Haygood Professor of Creative Writing and English and Curator of Literary Collections and the Raymond Danowski Poetry Library at Emory University in Atlanta.

Michael S. Glaser: Michael Glaser served as Poet Laureate of Maryland, from August 2004 through August 2009. He graduated from Denison University with a B.A. and from Kent State University with a M.A. and Ph.D. He began teaching at St. Mary's College of Maryland in 1970, retired and became a Professor Emeritus in 2008. He has published six collections of poetry and edited two anthologies. Dr. Glaser was Lucille Clifton's longtime friend and assistant.

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