Poetry Fridays: In Memory of Lucille Clifton

Posted on by Dodge

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!
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3 Responses to Poetry Fridays: In Memory of Lucille Clifton

  1. Gail Mitchell says:

    Lucille became my favorite poet. I came to the Dodge Poetry Festivals more recently and listened to Lucille every opportunity I was given… in the big tent, in the church, in whatever tent she read…. so grateful for her voice, her aura, her presence… I couldn’t believe it when I heard, only yesterday, at the 30th anniversary of the Marion Thompson Wright Lecture Series at Rutgers,Newark, that this poetess had passed away. I sat there in disbelief and heartfelt pain, came home, said a prayer
    and read her poetry.

  2. Mercedes Mulligan says:

    Lucille Clifton helped women and men to understand the world a little better through sensitivity, humor and honesty. Having raised three sons, I shared “I Wish Them Cramps”. They laughed at first … but now that they have wives and daughters … they “understand” a little better!
    At one of the festivals, my friend Jorge Sequen and I had the opportunity to sit and converse with Miss Lucille, as we affectionately related to her. She signed her book,MERCY, to my friend Mercy … I will never forget that moment!
    “Blessing the Boats” was an inspiration in so many ways. It was my “go to” poem for baptisms to retirements. Lucille Clifton helped us “sail through this to that.”
    She will be missed, but her words will continue to promote understanding.

  3. How very saddened I am to learn of Lucille Clifton’s passing! As I grew up in Buffalo and now live in Fredonia where she once attended college, we would share a little when our paths would cross at the Festivals. Her toughness, her spirit were such an inspiration. May her words continue to light our way!

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