The Collected Poems of Lucille Clifton 1965-2010 combines all eleven of Lucille clifton's published collections with more than sixty previously unpublished poems. The unpublished works feature early poems from 1965-1969, a collection-in-progress titled Book of Days (2008), and a poignant selection of final poems.
Thankfully, the volume includes an illuminating forward by Toni Morrison and a critical essay by Kevin Young. Clifton's poetry blends larger concerns about identity and social justice with intensely personal perspectives, so it really helps to understand details of her life and career. For example, Clifton felt she regularly communed with her deceased mother, and a number of poems to her mother make a great deal more sense if you read them as part of a literal rather than metaphorical conversation. The polydactyly that runs in Clifton's family also surfaces again and again in the poems. Her sixth fingers were surgically removed as a child, and sometimes what surfaces is her own loss; at other times, she alludes to the possibility of extra fingers showing up among her descendents, as a symbol of her bloodline and family identity.
Taken individually, Clifton's poems are moving, haunting, and sometimes funny. Packaged together like this, the poems reflect Clifton's powerful personality and lay bare agonizing or erotic impulses, sketching raw emotions with precise technical skill.