Lucille reading on you tube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XM7q_DUk5wU

And this from Bill Moyers : http://www.pbs.org/moyers/journal/02262010/watch2.html

Won’t you come celebrate with me by Lucille Clifton

won’t you celebrate with me

what i have shaped into

a kind of life? i had no model.

born in babylon

both nonwhite and woman

what did i see to be except myself?

i made it up

here on this bridge between

starshine and clay,

my one hand holding tight

my other hand; come celebrate

with me that everyday

something has tried to kill me

and has failed.

Lucille Clifton was a beloved and  favorite poet for many of us. Now she is gone. She died on February 13th, 2010.

I shuffled through my notes from the Dodge Poetry Fest, years 2006 and 2008. I had written many things she said, and in re-typing them here, I could just see her saying these great one-liners. “My sister used to go out with Aretha’s brother Vaughn.” WoW! That was it, then went on to say things like “Poetry wants to speak for those who have not yet found the voice to speak.” The first time I heard her read was at St. Mary’s College in Moraga. (She also taught at St. Mary’s in Maryland.) I got there early and was in the second row. After, I asked her to sign my copy of her poetry book, good woman. I told her I’d been studying poetry with Naomi Shihab Nye. She smiled and said, “I love Naomi.” At Dodge she always spoke to the high school students who filled the giant tent. Here are some excerpts from her talks:

08 talk to school kids at Dodge — I’m not qualified to do anything but tell people to be quiet. <>There are all kinds of ways of being smart. <> I want to write about what it is to be human. This culture is afraid of difference. <> Our mission as poets is to allow the poem to be what it seems, us recognizing in each other a kind of sameness. <> Whitman didn’t have an MFA. I think one has to feel in order to be a fine poet and connect feeling, spirit, and intellect. <> Cleverness is often in the way of poetry. <> If someone doesn’t teach you something, go out and learn it. The more you learn the more you are able to cope with surprises. If you leave reason out sometimes you have important things, but if you leave the heart out, it doesn’t live. <> <>  I said to Stanley Kunitz, “I wonder what I gave up for this gift of poetry!” He said, “My dear, you had no choice.”

06 talk to school kids at Dodge — My life is an open book. You can ask me anything. <> I can say anything. I even say “white” aloud in public. <> Poetry came out of my own wondering, dreams, memories. I learned not to stop it, to be my own person. That’s how I’ve managed so far.  <> In some cultures I am what’s happening! Not this one (a lead in to her poem My Hips.) I like to celebrate the wholeness of what we are famous for being. Paris Hilton… that doesn’t seem enough. <> I try not to be too disappointed in the world. <> I get up in the night and read Auden. <> I think about what’s necessary to you and what’s necessary to me and I chose. <> Regarding the on-going war on terror: I’d be more likely to join if the KKK was declared a terrorist organization. <> I’m about giving anything its true name. I enjoy learning. I’ve always been a curious person. My audience has always been diverse. I hope I’ve become more human, more possible.

Talk to poets at Dodge 06 — If I can validate my students’ culture, they’ll validate mine. <> 6 kids in 6-and-a-half years. Not Catholic, not Mormon – fertile. <> When I used to see women the age I am now I’d think, “They’re old!” They wore house-dresses and aprons. Guys put on the aprons to barbeque. <> My first book? My kids were 7, 5, 3, 2, & 1.  Now I write on a computer on the e-mail page. Don’t need capitol letters. Poems get longer. When my poems were short my kids were younger.  <> Holding poems in my head is what I do best.  I allow the poem to do what it wishes and I obey. I serve the poem.  I edit on paper. The poem has to work on the page and in the ear.  Feel what it will sound like.  <> I’m casual (apparently) about my life, but careful with my poem. Try to have power over it – you kill the poem. Leave it alone, then come back to it. <> When I edit, I balance intellect and intuition. <> You have to get over the stuff that keeps you from being authentic.  In poetry you are writing lines, not sentences. To talk straight ought not to be difficult, but this culture makes it hard. <> I look at bad TV and take my meds on time.

blessing the boats  (at St. Mary’s) by Lucille Clifton

may the tide

that is entering even now

the lip of our understanding

carry you out

beyond the face of fear

may you kiss

the wind then turn from it

certain that it will

love your back    may you

open your eyes to water

water waving forever

and may you in your innocence

sail through this to that

This poem? I may have been thinking about and feeling the passages in life. Hope we can get through things. For me the worst has never happened yet. Cancer 3X, Lost parents, husband, 2 kids. Kidney failure. <> I trust the poem. I will serve it. <> Look for the authentic ending to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comforted.

By some good fortune, I have an Email from her answering the request to use her poem in my book, Untold, as an introduction to my chapter “Mariya, From Among the Christians.” Here it is (from gloria mundi):

so knowing/ what is known

that is more difficult/ than faith/ to serve only one calling/ one commitment/ one devotion/ in one life.

Naomi forwarded my request. December 1, 2009 this E-mail arrived.

Lucille wrote: “Dear Friend  (any friend of naomi is etcetc) Yes    it sounds great!   Thank you    Lucille.”

Rest in peace luminous Lucille. You are missed. <><><>

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