Lucille Clifton: “blessing the boats,” “homage to my hips,” and “won’t you celebrate with me”

[From the WVFC Poetry Archive. First Published February 9, 2020]


blessing the boats

 (at St. Mary’s)

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


From Blessing the Boats: New and Selected Poems 1988-2000. Copyright © 2000 by Lucille Clifton. Used by permission of The Permissions Company, LLC, on behalf of BOA Editions Ltd, https://www.boaeditions.org/



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.
these hips have never been enslaved,
they go where they want to go
they do what they want to do.
these hips are mighty hips.
these hips are magic hips.
i have known them
to put a spell on a man and
spin him like a top!


Copyright © 1980 by Lucille Clifton. Now appears in The Collected Poems of Lucille Clifton 1965-2010, by Lucille Clifton, published by BOA Editions. Reprinted by permission of Curtis Brown, Ltd.

To hear Lucille Clifton reading this poem, visit here.


won’t you celebrate with me

won’t you celebrate with me
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.


From Book of Light. Copyright © 1993 by Lucille Clifton. Used by permission of The Permissions Company, LLC on behalf of Copper Canyon Press, www.coppercanyonpress.org.

To hear Lucille Clifton reading this poem, visit here.

Read Safiya Sinclair’s short essay about this poem here.

A collection of videos featuring Lucille Clifton appears here.

Listen to Lucille Clifton talking about and reading her work here.



Lucille Clifton was born in New York in 1936. Her first book, Good Times, was rated one of the best books of the year by The New York Times. She remained employed in state and federal government positions until becoming a writer-in-residence at Coppin State College in Baltimore in 1971 where she completed Good News About the Earth and An Ordinary Woman. Other books are Blessing the Boats: New and Selected Poems 1988–2000 (BOA Editions 2000), which won the National Book Award; Good Woman: Poems and a Memoir 1969-1980 (BOA Editions 1987), nominated for the Pulitzer Prize; and Two-Headed Woman (University of Massachusetts Press 1980), a Pulitzer Prize nominee and recipient of the Juniper Prize. Clifton also wrote Generations: A Memoir and several books for children. Blessing the Boats is available for order here.

Clifton’s honors include an Emmy Award, a Lannan Literary Award, two NEA fellowships, the Shelley Memorial Award, the YM-YWHA Poetry Center Discovery Award, the 2007 Ruth Lilly Prize, and the Robert Frost Medal for lifetime achievement from the Poetry Society of America. In 1999, she was elected a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets. She was Poet Laureate for the State of Maryland from 1979 to 1985 and a Distinguished Professor of Humanities at St. Mary’s College of Maryland. She died in 2010 at the age of seventy-three.

Of Clifton’s work, Rita Dove (featured here in this column last year) has written: “In contrast to much of the poetry being written today—intellectualized lyricism characterized by an application of inductive thought to unusual images—Lucille Clifton’s poems are compact and self-sufficient” whose revelations incarnate “the epiphanies of childhood and early adolescence, when one’s lack of preconceptions about the self allowed for brilliant slippage into the metaphysical, a glimpse into an egoless, utterly thingful and serene world.” [Source here ] If you are hungry for more information about Clifton’s life and work, you’ll find it here.

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