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'Collected Clifton' now available electronically

As we celebrate Black History Month, we remember and honor monumental contributions made throughout our nation's tumultuous history—but it is almost impossible to do so without thinking of Lucille Clifton and the light she brought to the world. Nearly four years after releasing The Collected Poems of Lucille Clifton 1965-2010, BOA is proud to announce that the complete collection—magnificent in every sense of the word—is now available electronically, making it accessible to more people and in more ways.

This volume—which includes all of the poems Lucille Clifton published in book form during her lifetime, as well as groupings of previously uncollected poems—is the only BOA book by Lucille Clifton available in electronic format. The e-book is available for purchase from all major digital retailers, including Amazon, Apple, Barnes & Noble, and Kobo, among many others.

The stunning cloth print edition is still a must-have for every poetry reader's shelf, and is available at the BOA Bookstore.

Please take a moment to read and enjoy this beautiful reflection by Publisher Peter Conners, written exactly four years ago today—2/21/12—for the City Lights blog.

waiting to hear from lucille by peter conners (City Lights, 2012)

In political terms, I am a spiritual “flip-flopper.” Catch me on the right day (okay, it’s probably going to be night . . . possibly late night) and I’ll whirl out a litany of momentarily-deeply held beliefs about spirits, the afterlife, unknowable energies, and guiding forces. Catch me on the other days (I’m looking at you Mondays) and I’ll dismiss it all as poppycock and folderolif only because those archaic words roll off a sharpened tongue with such a righteous snap. This isn’t a pleasant admission for me. I’d like to think I have my spiritual house more in order than that. But I’m here to tell you I don’t.

That all said, whether I believe in any sort of governing force (I’m looking at you God) has always been a secondary concern to me. The one element of what I will grudgingly call “my spirituality” that never flags is a faith thatif we pay close attention to the world around ussigns will appear to help guide our actions. Do I believe these signs are messages sent to us from An Other realm? Not really. I don’t know. Sometimes. Maybe. Mainly I believe that we find and use these signs as we need while our ability to read them remains a function of our desire to reinforce our intuitions and intellectualizations. In other words, they tell us what we already know while reassuring us as we move forward.

Flip-flopping aside, I take these signs pretty seriously.

On September 21, 2010, I started on a journey that just reached a major milestone on theto my sign-mindauspicious date of 2/21/2012. The journey began when I attended the Furious Flower Poetry Center’s tribute to Lucille Clifton. It was held at James Madison University and billed as “73 Poems for 73 Years: Celebrating the Life of Lucille Clifton.” The event took place seven months after Lucille’s death on February 13, 2010. Lucille died 51 years, to the day, after the death of her mother. The event was spearheaded by Nikki Giovanni and Joanne Gabbin. It brought together 73 poets, friends, and family members to each read a single poem from Lucille’s published work. The moment I was asked to attend, I reserved the poem “blessing the boats” as my contribution.

I attended “73 Poems for 73 Years” in my official capacity as Publisher of BOA Editions. Beginning with the 1987 publication of two collections in the same year, Good Woman: Poems and a Memoir: 1968-1980 and Next: New Poems, BOA would publish a lucky seven Lucille Clifton books. Both Good Woman and Next were named finalists for the Pulitzer Prize in 1988. While Lucille did not win the Pulitzer, no poet had ever had two books named as finalists in the same year. Once again, Lucille Clifton had broken new ground. When Lucille’s collection Blessing the Boats: New and Selected Poems won the National Book Award in 1988, she broke the “major awards barrier” in her career. Those major awards would continue throughout the remainder of her life. In 2007, she became the first African American woman to win the $100,000 Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize. In 2010, she was posthumously awarded the Robert Frost Medal by the Poetry Society of America for “distinguished lifetime service to American poetry.”

I didn’t select “blessing the boats” because of the National Book Award. I selected it because it was my personal ceremonial poem. Over the years, I have read it at weddings, a funeral, and numerous other occasions. As with all Clifton poems, it speaks equally to loss and celebration, to looking forward while never forgetting what we’ve left behind. I read it because I could think of no better way to honor Lucille Clifton’s gifts to the world.

At the reception after the Furious Flower reading, I started a conversation with Lucille’s daughtersLexi and Sidneythat has consumed and propelled me for the past year and a half.

We began talking about publishing The Collected Poems of Lucille Clifton.

As I write this from my desk at the BOA offices in Rochester, NY, I have just sent the final version of the manuscript to our typesetter Richard Foerster. In addition to containing all of Lucille’s published poems, the book contains more than 50 previously unpublished poems that were unearthed in her archives at Emory University. Due to the brilliant, diligent work of the book’s co-editorsKevin Young and Michael Glaserthese poems are presented in chronological order ranging from poems written 1965-1969 (before Lucille’s first book, Good Times, was published to great acclaim), to an unfinished collection titled Book of Days that she began after her last book was published, to a handful of final poems, the last one handwritten into her daybook the same month she passed away. The book also contains a poignant Foreword by Toni Morrison and a comprehensive and insightful Afterword by Kevin Young.

That’s lovely, Peter, you may be thinking, but what does this have to do with signs and spirituality?

The truth is that I haven’t had much cause for my belief in “signs” to cross paths with my job here at BOA over the past 8 ½ years. Perhaps it’s because most of the job involves sitting front of a computer screen or in front of stacks of paper with pretty much the same view every day. There hasn’t been much space for those things to show themselves between the line breaks and blinking cursors. However, I’m here today2/21/2012to testify that The Collected Poems of Lucille Clifton has come complete with its own series of signs.

When we first started working on this project, I’d hear statements from co-editor Michael Glaser (Lucille’s longtime friend and fellow poet), and Lexi and Sidney Clifton that amounted to, “Well, if she [Lucille] doesn’t like it, she’ll let you know.” After chuckling off these first few comments I came to realize that Lexi, Sidney, and Michael were all completely serious. From what I can tell, there has never been a doubt from any of them that Lucille has taken an active role in the publication of this book. Their belief compelled me to break out of my Publisher’s Zone here at BOA while working on this book and open my eyes to potential signs that would help guide its publication. Before making any significant decisioncover design, photos to select, overall questions of marketing, promotional statements, etc.I’ve taken to pausing and waiting for . . . something . . .  anything. For the longest time, I didn’t know what I was waiting forand I can’t say I always “heard” anything eitherbut I learned enough to know it was worth pausing for reflection.

But that’s not entirely true either. At some level, I always knew what I was waiting for.

I was waiting to hear from Lucille.

When you read Toni Morrison’s Foreword to the book you’ll hear about a conversation the two women had regarding the talks Lucille conducted with her deceased mother. In the most “Lucille Clifton moment” of the exchange, she says, “But I get the impression she isn’t very interested in me. Once I asked her about something extremely important to me and she said, ‘Excuse me, I have to go. I have something to do.’” A perfect Lucille Clifton moment.

In Kevin Young’s Afterword you’ll read about Lucille being born polydactyl (having 12 fingers), being descended from Dahomey women, and engaging extensively in “automatic” or “spirit writing.”

In the body of Lucille’s poetry, you’ll see a poet moving fluidly between the natural and the spirit(ual) world, never clearly favoring either, never feeling the need to distinguish in that simplistic way, simply making her poems with all the experience and the worlds available to her.

To many of usincluding me at the start of this projectLucille Clifton is a poet grounded heavily in the body and the concrete world around us. She writes of joy, longing, loss, celebration, sickness, andoftenfamily, with one eye trained securely on William Carlos William’s dictum, “No ideas but in things.” But there is another Lucille Clifton too. One I’ve only recently come to appreciate in a meaningful way. That is the Lucille Clifton who intrepidly mined the more shadowy sides of this world, pushing past the curtain that separates us from the mysteries we will never stop contemplating and striving toward. This is the Lucille Clifton of the spirit world; a world in which she was astonishingly comfortable, and to which (I sit here believing) she now belongs. That is the Lucille Clifton who has been watching over this collection of her life’s work while we push the silly buttons and make the phone calls necessary to bring it into this world.

The Collected Poems of Lucille Clifton will be officially released on September 11, 2012. This is not a date we here at BOA selected, but one that was assigned by our distributor Consortium after we announced our intention for a September release. I love the idea of Lucille’s poetry reclaiming this tragic day in America’s history with her art. The collection will, of course, contain her 9/11 sequence “september song a poem in 7 days” from her penultimate collection Mercy. As it turns out, September 11th is also my birthday. I take that as a good sign, too.

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