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Voices From the Gaps

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Blessing the Boats
by Lucille Clifton

Blessing the Boats

Reviewed by Bianca Ward

Blessing the Boats, by Lucille Clifton, is 132 pages of provocative poetry. A recipient of the National Book Award, she is currently the Distinguished Professor of Humanities at St. Mary's College of Maryland and in 1999 was elected Chancellor of The Academy of American Poets. She has also served as Poet Laureate for the State of Maryland.

Clifton's poetry speaks for itself. She defies the pejorative Western myth that women of color are incompetent, impotent, and inadequate. Her wording is simple and straightforward; her poems often lack capitalization and punctuation. This helps engulf readers of all levels because commas won't slow a reader down and sporadic periods indicate when a thought stops. Her poems are short and easy to remember, often tackling controversial subjects.

"i think of thirty years ago/ and the hangers i shoved inside/ hard trying to not have you. " Abortion is one subject Lucille Clifton openly writes and talks about. I had the pleasure of hearing her read from this book of poetry and she made it very clear that she had had "abortions. " If you're sensitive to this type of material, Clifton may not be an author for you.

Beyond abortion, Lucille Clifton's poetry is about racism, illness, death, gender, and ultimately human experiences. Her poem "dialysis" is powerful. She writes, "after the cancer i was so grateful/ to be alive. i am alive and furious. / Blessed be even this?"

This poem is about the toll cancer had taken on her body, forcing her kidneys to fail; it illustrates the harsh realities of surviving cancer and aging. In the last line she questions dialysis, a painful procedure, as a blessing. She brings the realities of aging, illness and ultimately death into perspective. Her poems "to my last period," "dialysis," and "the death of thelma sayles" exemplify her poetry. Women, cancer survivors, and children can all relate to her poetry.

Lucille Clifton writes to empower women by giving a voice to those "fruitful women," "old women," and women like herself. The best example of this is in her poem "female. " The line, "there is an amazon in us" turns each woman into a strong warrior able to fight anything.

This book should be read by all women, young or old and not just women. It speaks to people of any race, of any gender, and to survivors of any illness. It speaks to humanity. She writes about her personal experiences involving gender conflict and racism, by using everyday experiences in hopes of relating to women everywhere. Whether it's called controversy or life, Lucille Clifton illustrates it well through poetry. The poem "why some people be mad at me sometimes" epitomizes Clifton's poetry. This book is a compilation of her memories.

Why some people be mad at me sometimes

they ask me to remember
but they want me to remember
their memories
and I keep on remembering