The Englewood Review of Books
Best Books of 2020
Hardback: BOA Editions, 2020
[ IndieBound ] [ Amazon ] [ Kindle ]
Clifton remains one of the most beguiling poets of our time. She is a writer who everyone both loves and admires. Many of us have a strong personal relationship with a Clifton poem, but it is rarely the same poem. This is in part because there are so many Cliftons: the nurturing Clifton, the angry Clifton, the maternal Clifton, the feminist Clifton, the post–Harlem Renaissance Clifton, the humorous Clifton, the political Clifton, the confessionalist Clifton, the experimental Clifton, the historical Clifton, the philosophical Clifton, the celebratory Clifton, the horrified Clifton, the optimistic Clifton, the accessible Clifton, and the inscrutable Clifton, just to name a few. Virtually no American poet can boast this astonishing range of style, voice, tenor, mood, ideology, and skill.
To its credit, How to Carry Water manages to do an excellent job representing the wide spectrum of Clifton’s poetics. Drawing from 17 different books and covering roughly 45 years, the volume includes most (but not all) of the poems you expect, like “poem to my uterus,” “i am accused of tending to the past,” “poem in praise of menstruation,” “brothers,” “jasper texas 1998,” “my dream about the second coming,” and “blessing the boats.” Missing are some classics like “homage to my hips,” “wishes for sons,” “the message of crazy horse,” and the astonishingly powerful “slaveships.” Their absence is inexplicable to me, but at least all are easily available on the internet.Intentionally or not, these lacunae do a different kind of work in that they allow equally strong (but lesser known) poems to shine. With fewer poems competing for a reader’s attention, it is easier to see patterns emerge across Clifton’s oeuvre.
- From Dean Rader’s review of this book
for the LA Review of Books [ READ the full review ]