Martin Farawell, Program Director, Poetry
When Lucille Clifton set out to be a poet she had no models to follow; the figures in the canon did not look or speak like her, did not have her stories to tell. She realized if she was going to have a life as a poet, she would have to make it herself. And she did.
To hear Lucille Clifton read was to know immediately you were in the presence of an authentic voice. She once said, “I don’t write to be admired. I write to be understood.” And, we might add, she wrote to understand. She questioned and explored every aspect of her own life and experience, and turned an unrelenting gaze onto the times and the nation she lived in.
Under the force of her determination to communicate whatever she saw, she compressed and pared down language to a fierce clarity. And she did not turn away from anything her vision revealed, regardless of the sorrow, regret or fury it might bring her. Instead, she invited us to “celebrate with me/ what i have shaped into/ a kind of life.”
For anyone lucky enough to have witnessed them, her readings at the Dodge Poetry Festival remain indelible reminders of what poetry can aspire to and inspire in us. Everyone at the Dodge Foundation is deeply saddened by her passing. At the end of her poem, “sorrows,” she asks, “but who can distinguish/one human voice/amid such choruses of desire?” We can answer her easily. We can, Lucille. We will know your voice anywhere and everywhere we hear or read it.
A generous sampling of Lucille Clifton’s poetry can be found in Blessing the Boats: New and Selected Poems 1988-2000. More recent collections include Mercy (2004) and Voices (2008).
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The Geraldine R. Dodge Poetry Festival in Newark is October 7 – 10!
For more information, visit the Poetry website.