September 28th, 2007


Poetry Friday -- Lucille Clifton

This week I asked my students to bring in a collection of poetry that they'd commit to reading numerous times over the next month or so. At the end of all that, they'll write short papers about the poetry and the impact it's had on them as writers. So, to launch this, they each did readings from their selected books. John Ashbery and Neruda, Marge Piercy and Li Young-Lee. I was delighted. 

And here's the best part. 
Every single student asked if they could read "just one more" because my request for three didn't satisfy. 
Every. Single. Student. 
Begging for the opportunity to read more poetry aloud. 
Guess what my answer was?

So, one of these budding poets chose Lucille Clifton's book, Quilting. She said she'd had to narrow down her read-aloud choices from 19 favorites to a paltry five. And I kind of know what she means. Lucille Clifton is eminently readable. Both spare and profound. Both conversational and exquisite. 

A few years back, when I sold my first picture book, I used the advance to go to the Geraldine R. Dodge Poetry Festival (I mean, mortgage shmortgage, right?). And while I was there I was nearly silent. I did not shmooze or mingle or chat. I did not network. I really just took long walks on the side of New Jersey's country roads and I read and wrote and listened to poetry. I was pregnant -- with both baby and book, and feeling almost entirely internal.

On the last morning of the festival, Lucille Clifton read in the chapel. I remember it well because it really was like a prayer. Or, more accurately, a blessing.

blessing the boats

may the tide
that is entering even now
the lip of our understanding
carry you out
beyond the face of fear

(Read the rest of the poem here...)