Poets Kevin Young and Michael Glaser co-edited the 800 page The Collected Poems of Lucille Clifton 1965–2010. They talked to PW about knowing the poet and the labor of love that the book represents.
How did you each know Clifton, and how did you get involved with this project ?
Kevin Young: Clifton picked my first book, Most Way Home (1995), for the National Poetry Series. She changed my life. I then got to know her years later, partly by helping get her literary archive to Emory University, where I work. I feel like that and the Collected were part of this giant circle that Lucille would appreciate.
Michael Glaser: Lucille and I were colleagues at St. Mary’s College of Maryland for over 15 years. She was a close and treasured friend of my entire family.
It’s shocking to see how much she actually wrote—Clifton’s individual volumes over the years and the poems themselves are so small. Were there lots of discoveries in the archives?
MG: My guess is that there are numerous poems out and about in the world that Lucille gave to people who asked for copies after a reading that essentially got lost to Lucille. I think the publication of the Collected will probably help identify many of those “lost poems.”
KY: The archive yielded lots of discoveries and I expect there will be more—I especially would love to see some of her children’s works that are out of print gathered together. I also think her spirit writing, the large amounts of work she wrote down as dictated by “the Ones,” is remarkable.
Can you talk a bit about Clifton’s literary legacy?
KY: Clifton’s influence is profound, not just in terms of style but topic—and music. After her, writers I think feel able to write about all subjects, even taboo ones, not just with intimacy and bravery, but also to make metaphor from them. Clifton was always finding metaphor and meaning—from being born with 12 fingers to the fox poet who visits her after illness—both from her life and from her language.
MG: I think this book will show that Lucille is one of the major and most courageous voices of the 20th century. She often felt that she let down various “groups” of which she was a part—that she wasn’t black enough for African-Americans, feminist enough for women, a survivor of abuse or cancer or you name it—enough for those groups. But she saw and explored the humanness of all of us—one who acknowledged boundaries but was always seeking ways to remove them, to cross borders, to articulate her belief that, indeed, “all of us are all of us.”