America lost a great voice this weekend: the poet Lucille Clifton died. She was 73 years old.
Clifton wrote wonderful, poignant, witty poems whose formal simplicity belies their emotional and political depth. She wrote of the realities of living in a large, black, female body in a racist, sexist culture; she survived cancer and wrote of the joys of the body in the face of mortality. I hope all Shapelings have run across the marvelous, body-loving “homage to my hips“:
these hips are big hips
they need space to
move around in.
they don’t fit into little
petty places. these hips
are free hips.
they don’t like to be held back.
Read the rest here.
From “scar” (in The Terrible Stories, which has a section on breast cancer):
we will learn
to live together.
i will call you
ribbon of hunger
empty pocket flap
edge of before and after.
You can find a longer collection of Clifton’s poems, as well as an introductory essay to her work, at the Poetry Foundation. Warning: tissues may be needed. Clifton’s poems touch on abortion, whiteness, hate crimes, war, menstruation, grief, and so many other “terrible stories;” yet they vibrate with such compassion and clarity of vision that it’s easy to forget how tough and nervy they are. Blessing the Boats, her selected poems from 2000, is an excellent entry point for new readers, and a powerful testament to the importance of Clifton’s voice to our culture.
I’ll let Lucille Clifton end this post herself, with a video of her reading in 2008.
Rest in peace, Lucille Clifton. Thank you for being one human voice.