Edited by poet Aracelis Girmay, this collection gathers 10 previously uncollected poems alongside verse that has appeared in various collections published during the 40-year career of celebrated American poet Lucille Clifton.
As monumental and as comprehensive as the Collected Poems is, How to Carry Water may do Clifton’s work greater service. In addition to including 10 new poems not in the Collected, this slim but substantial volume streamlines Clifton’s strongest work, enabling readers to better see and enjoy the micro and macro impact of her astonishing career ... To its credit, How to Carry Water manages to do an excellent job representing the wide spectrum of Clifton’s poetics ... Missing are some classics ... 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 ... Clifton’s poems are witty, conversational, and self-reflexive ... Clifton’s greatness lies in her poems’ directionalities. Because we can read her work in reverse to the Harlem Renaissance, but also because we can read her forward, to now, to a day she did not live into.
What struck me first is how fully formed [Clifton's] early work was ... Most of all, we see what would become a keystone in the work to come ... Though there are many poems for or about men in these pages, this selection reinforces Clifton’s insistence on celebrating the quiet heroism of women’s lives. One of her many gifts was how she could connect those individual lives to a greater arc, often achieved through her aforementioned stunning way with an ending ... Praise is due, as well, to Girmay’s lucid and lyrical foreword to the collection, which establishes the foundations of Clifton’s enduring legacy. Beloved in life, Clifton continues, posthumously, to influence generations of poets and to surprise and move her readers.
How to Carry Water...offers what Conners called a more 'streamlined version' of Clifton’s vast and varied poetic legacy ... How to Carry Water assembles many of the poems that diehard Clifton fans would consider essential ... It also brings to the surface an assortment of less familiar poems that resonate more potently with the challenges, aspirations, ambivalences, and commitments of a more recent cultural atmosphere ... Girmay, at the end of her lyrical foreword to How to Carry Water (reason enough to buy the new collection), addresses this tension in Clifton’s evolving legacy...the poet’s radical grit, strangeness, and brilliance.