We don’t traffic much in obituaries at Women’s Voices for Change, but if you talked to any poet or lover of poetry across the country this week there were only two words to be spoken: “Lucille Clifton.” People were trading stories, articles, anything to  to process the loss of the voice of the poet who died on Saturday. How to process losing the poet laureate of Maryland, multiple prize winner and wise teacher, and beloved mentor to poets at the University of California at Santa Cruz and, for the last eighteen years of her life, as Distinguished Professor of Humanities at St. Mary’s College of Maryland? Whose work, as the New York Times noted, “trained lenses wide and narrow on the experience of being black and female in the 20th century, exploring vast subjects like the indignities of history and intimate ones like the indignities of the body?”

Elizabeth Alexander, one of our own Voices in Verse, found one way in her elegy for the New Yorker. “poets have written so convincingly of celebration,” writes Alexander,  adding that the poet “invites the reader to celebrate survival: a poet’s survival against the struggles and sorrows of disease, poverty, and attempts at erasure of those who are poor, who are women, who are vulnerable, who challenge conquistador narratives. There is luminous joy in these poems, as they speak against silence and hatred.” And, Alexander addsm Clifton  invited us to share her conversations with the dead, as in her poem for her husband,  “The Death of Fred Clifton.”

I seemed to be drawn
to the center of myself
leaving the edges of me
in the hands of my wife
and I saw with the most amazing
clarity
so that I had not eyes but
sight,
and, rising and turning,
through my skin,
there was all around not the
shapes of things
but oh, at last, the things
themselves.

In honor of Clifton and her singular voice, below we present one of her signature pairings of joy and defiance:

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.

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