Academic journal article The Virginia Quarterly Review

Mercy

Academic journal article The Virginia Quarterly Review

Mercy

Article excerpt

Mercy, by Lucille Clifton. Boa, September 2004. $22

Lucille Clifton has been producing lyrics of celebration and heartbreak since 1969 when she published her first book, Good Times. Her lean, spare, and agile lyrics, her use of lowercase letters, and her characteristic quotidian diction loosely based on the iambic trimeter line both reject and speak to the Eurocentric poetry tradition. Her twelfth collection of poems, Mercy, follows Blessings the Boats: Selected and New Poems, 1989-2000, which won the National Book Award, and this latest collection maintains her distinctive style. Mercy takes on the same dark subject matter as many of her earlier poems, such as the abuse of the speaker by the speaker's father, the death of the speaker's mother, the mistreatment of African Americans by white America, and surviving cancer. The title poem embodies one of Clifton's greatest achievements: simultaneously combining an acknowledgment of tragedy with a spirit of celebration. It's a nearly impossible task that Clifton manages to accomplish without sentimentality or melodrama. These are poems where great restraint mingles with disarming primal imagery to convey poems which hold tremendous emotional weightnot only does Clifton address the sorrow and anger associated with the above mentioned tragedies, but she takes on new griefs in this book: the unbearable pain of a mother who has lost two of her adult children and a vast and complicated sadness in response to the attacks on the United States on September n, 2001. …

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