rev. of Quilting by Lucille Cliftonby
In her latest book of poems, Lucille Clifton writes about the lives of women as poets, historical witnesses, opinionated friends, mothers, wives. With all of them, there is a painful honesty that makes Clifton's work worthwhile, even if not for every taste. Often, the poems are personal, barren utterances of feminist rage, represented in a variety of personae. The voice may be a mumble: "he do/she do/they live/they try." It may comprise the inarticulate thoughts of husband and wife: "she blames him, at the last, for/backing away from his bones." It may be both humorous and bitter, as when a mother writes about her sons: "I wish them cramps/I wish them a strange town/and the last tampon." Or it may even employ the clichés of a Harlequin romance: "she blames him/for being unable to see/the tears in her eyes."
Although rough and incomplete, sometimes even corny, these excerpts do account for some of Clifton's appeal -- the poet as Every-woman. For many readers, especially those who ordinarily do not buy books of poetry, Clifton is the real thing. Here is the voice of a modern black woman in the city: "the roaches/walked into the kitchen/bold with their bad selves," Clifton writes in "The Beginning of the End of the World." But there are also brief poems to Eddie Murphy and Lena Horne, and other poems about being a poet, like one in which she describes being in a Howard Johnson's after a reading.
Clifton's work has not changed much over the years.
Quilting, like her other books,
Two-Headed Women and
Good Times, enters the minds and lives of average people who are usually absent from American poetry -- people who live from day to day, from paycheck to paycheck. Although Clifton's language is flat, it has the ring of truth. In the words of the rappers, Clifton is writing and talking street. She obviously understands the people she's writing about. --