cover image The Terrible Stories

The Terrible Stories

Lucille Clifton. BOA Editions, $12.5 (72pp) ISBN 978-1-880238-37-0

In a long career, Clifton has earned that rare combination of critical acclaim (including two Pulitzer Prize nominations) and a wide popular audience. Heir to Langston Hughes's deceptively ordinary voice, Clifton crafts brief lines and accessible metaphors into a profound and often humorous commentary on the rich survival skills of women, family love and contemporary American--particularly African American--life. Her cogent 10th collection charts a treacherous terrain of personal and historic tragedy. She confronts breast cancer with an impressive delicacy, as in ""scar"": ""I will call you/ ribbon of hunger/ and desire/ empty pocket flap/ edge of before and after.// and you/ what will you call me?"" A poetic sequence called ""A Term in Memphis"" penetrates Southern history, allowing the revelations of honest anger to operate as antidote--not comfort--for bigotry. Often drawn to religious themes, Clifton ambitiously explores contradictions of the Bible's King David, a poet and a soldier who ""stands in the tents of history/ bloody skull in one hand, harp in the other...."" With her sustaining ability to spin pain into beauty, Clifton redeems the human spirit from its dark moments. She is among our most trustworthy and gifted poets. (Sept.)