On October 28, 2002, a rainy night in Georgia, I drove from Columbus to Atlanta to hear the poet Lucille Clifton read at Georgia Tech. If I remember correctly, she opened by reciting the short poem, “Why Some People be Mad at Me Sometimes.”
Lucille Clifton died on Saturday. She was only the second woman, and the first African American, to be poet laureate of Maryland.
She told the audience that rainy night that she wanted to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comforted. Toward the end of the reading, she recited “Hommage to My Hips,” and then said, “In some cultures I am what’s happening.”
Our eyes met when she spoke to me and signed my book, A Good Woman: poems and a memoir 1969-1980. One of my favorite lines in this book, for its power:
Things don’t fall apart. Things hold. Lines connect in thin ways that last and last and lives become generations made out of pictures and words just kept.
Here’s the end of a poem of hers I love about a fox:
Child, i tell you now it was not the animal blood i was hiding from, it was the poet in her, the poet and the terrible stories she could tell.
from “Telling Our Stories“
Thelma Lucille Sayles, who became Lucille Clifton, was born in 1936 and lived 73 years.
Beautiful tribute, Cynthia. I haven’t read as much Clifton as I would like, but the tastes you offer here motivate me to seek her out.
Thanks, Emily. She made an impression on me–first her words, then her presence.
Thank you for this lovely tribute. I adore this woman and her work. I’m glad you were able to meet her, it must have been a powerful experience. I have turned to her poem “Sorrows” many times when I was dealing with loss, and now I must turn to it again.
Lou, thanks for taking the time to comment and for reminding me about “Sorrows.” Yes, a good one to read now. Here’s a link to that wonderful poem: http://www.poetryfoundation.org/archive/poem.html?id=180005.
“She made an impression on me–first her words, then her presence.” Which is why I love book events. Lucille Clifton looked at you and planted a piece of her soul in your spirit. Her inspiration continues to live and to bloom within you. And I’m so happy you’ve shared it.
A piece of her soul in my spirit–I hope so, Darrelyn. Thank you.
I hadn’t heard of her until I read your post, Cynthia, but I just ordered American Poets Continuum #112: Voices. Thank you for the introduction.
Lauren, I don’t have that one. Let me know how you like it.
I saw Clifton’s name on your side bar and had to click.
I love the quotes you shared, and the chills I felt to read them. Clifton mesmerizes, shakes, and awakens the senses. I am forever grateful for her journey upon this earth.
I wrote a poem dedicated to her, shortly after I heard about her death. If you’re interested, it is here:
Terresa, thanks for sharing your thoughts on Clifton here. I look forward to reading your poem.
I just found this blog recently when a good friend suggested it to me. I’ve been a regular reader ever since.