April 12, 2016

Friday, September 7, 2012

Poetry Friday: Clifton's Collected Poems

I was sitting yesterday in a bookstore cafe with poet Ginny Crawford, several books of Lucille Clifton's poetry filling our small table. Then I went hunting for Clifton's newly released Collected Poems, which just about collapsed our table. It is a book as mighty, inside and out, as Clifton was in life.

The Collected Poems of Lucille Clifton 1965-2010 (American Poets Continuum)
Celebrating the recent publication of
Clifton's mammoth Collected Poems.
Ginny and I are planning an event for this month's Baltimore Book Festival (9/28-30) -- a tribute to Clifton's work both as a poet and as an active, generous member of the literary community. She lived here, in Columbia, Maryland, and taught at St. Mary's College in the southern part of the state.

Me, CityLit Project's Gregg Wilhelm, and
Ginny Crawford at the 2011 Baltimore Book Festival.

A panel of local poets and authors who knew and worked with Lucille Clifton discuss her poetry and legacy. Featuring: poet Linda Joy Burke, Little Patuxent Review contributing editor Susan Thornton Hobby, Edgar Silex and Lucille's daughter, Alexia Clifton. Moderated by poet Virginia Crawford and LPR editor Laura Shovan. The panel will include readings of Clifton’s poems from the newly released The Collected Poems of Lucille Clifton 1965-2010. Attendees may be invited to write on-the-spot poems in response to Clifton’s work. This program is presented as part of the 100,000 Poets for Change annual global event. 

Saturday, September 29, 12-1:30 PM in the CityLit Tent.

Clifton died in 2010 and our local community misses her a great deal, so there is a lot of positive energy around this event.

Ginny and I will be inviting attendees to write poems using first lines of Clifton's work as a prompt, something I invite you to try at home.

Going through the Collected Works, there were so many evocative first lines to use that we had to stop at forty. As Ginny and I scanned the poems, we stopped and read, shared favorite pieces and surprises -- again, more poems than you can imagine.

For those of you who teach older children, middle and high school, I am suggesting Clifton's poem, "Miss Rosie" as a model piece.

Many teens like to write about social issues because they are newly awake to the larger world. In judging teen poetry contests, I've read my share of poems about the homeless. What's usually missing, and what Clifton does so well, is the specificity that takes a problem and invites the reader to see an individual person.

miss rosie

by Lucille Clifton

when I watch you 
wrapped up like garbage 
sitting, surrounded by the smell 
of too old potato peels 
when I watch you 
in your old man's shoes 
with the little toe cut out 
sitting, waiting for your mind 
like next week's grocery 
I say
when I watch you
you wet brown bag of a woman

Like me, Ginny is a poet-in-the-schools for the Maryland State Arts Council. We came across a Clifton poem with this title, "We Do Not Know Very Much About Lucille's Inner Life."

Wow. What a great prompt for middle and high schoolers, "Insert your own name and go with it."

Be brave if you do this prompt with your students. This is a BIG invitation to speak the truth. That's what Lucille Clifton was all about. She spoke the truth through her poetry. She spoke difficult things in a way that invited everyone to listen and to be brave themselves.

Stop by Katya's place at Write. Sketch. Repeat. for more Poetry Friday posts.


Robyn Hood Black said...

Wow. Wish I were cloe enough to attend this amazing sharing/celebration. What powerful work, and thanks for sharing this new collection.

Tabatha said...

Great post, as always, Laura.

What a fascinating idea:

"We came across a Clifton poem with this title, 'We Do Not Know Very Much About Lucille's Inner Life.' Wow. What a great prompt for middle and high schoolers, 'Insert your own name and go with it.' "

I wish I could read Lucille's "Inner Life" poem! (But I didn't find it online anywhere.)

Jeannine Atkins said...

Hi, Like Robyn, I wish I could be at that event. Yes, I imagine wonderful energy. And like Tabatha, I'd like to read that poem. I assume in the Collected Poems, anyway -- that must be a treasure trove. Thanks and enjoy every min. of the prep and the big day!

Author Amok said...

Hi, Robyn. I wish you could make it, too.

Tabatha and Jeannine, the poem is in the "Collected Works." I hadn't come across it before. Interestingly, it is not a confessional poem, but quite universal.