Lucille Clifton died Saturday after a long battle with cancer at Johns Hopkins University Hospital in Baltimore. She was 73.
Her many achievements and honors? She was Poet Laureate of the state of Maryland from 1979 to 1985. She was the first black woman to win the Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize award (2007), which is one of the most prestigious awards for American poets and carries a $100,000 stipend. She won the National Book Award in 2001 for "Blessing the Boats: New and Selected Poems, 1988-2000". She was a two-time Pulitzer finalist.
One commenter, Benson86, had this to say after learning of Ms. Clifton’s death and reading about her many accomplishments in The Buffalo News, “God bless her soul, but I, and I bet 99% of America never heard of her.”
Why must some people feel the need to invoke God’s name right before they’re about to disparage someone? I admit this comment as innocent as it appears to be, got my back up. There’s been some disrespect out there of late, and though I know better, I still wanted to drop kick someone. But in order not to get drop kicked back, I decided instead to add to my previous post on Ms. Clifton, which only included the YouTube clip, hoping this would settle me down some, and also provide me another opportunity to better remember Ms. Clifton.
Here goes. Well, Benson86, God bless your soul, I’ve heard of Lucille Clifton. And, God blesses the souls of the legions of children raised in the 60s, 70s, 80s, along with their children, and their children’s children, who will long after I’m gone from this earth (you too), be off somewhere book in hand reading Lucille Clifton’s poetry. You see, Benson86, many of us free lunchers, Head Starters, down in the hollerers, prep and private school kids were blessed to have had Lucille Clifton’s words as our first introduction to poetry.
Decades after my own introduction, Lucille Clifton’s words still have special meaning for me. I’m sure right about now, if Benson86 were reading this, he/she would probably be asking, “God bless your soul, but why, child?” Well, God bless your soul, Benson86, because what Lucille Clifton created, what she took time to so brilliantly write, what might be recognizable to the myopic as merely black ink on white paper, these sacred amalgamations exist solely because of me. It’s true, so help me. I’m the reason the poems were written. What, you ask, would make a person think such childish thoughts? It’s what my teachers told me. I was her muse. We were all her muses. We inspired her. This is what we knew as true. It’s what we believed--believe. Even today, when I read Children Listen, the eleven year old in me can’t help but to smile when I think of all Lucille Clifton was able to accomplish with pen and paper while keeping me, my sister and brother, and all our friends and their friends uppermost in her mind.
Funny, after reading Benson86’s comment, I instantly recalled a line from one of my favorite movies, The Landlord. Comments Professor Duboise directs toward Beau Bridges’ character Elgar as he sits in on a class of African American grade schoolers being taught their “lessons” in the basement of the tenement building Elgar owns. Professor Duboise tells his young charges that though we can all learn, “see children, not everyone can learn what we learn.” Some seem to think Professor Duboise refers to Elgard’s race, that because he’s white, he can’t learn what the students are being taught. But I don’t think this is the professor’s point. I think he’s attempting to teach both his students and Elgar that in order to learn a thing you first have to be open to the possibility that there is something to be learned. So, Benson86, I say to you, it’s not about whether or not “you’ve” heard of Lucille Clifton. You having heard or not heard of Ms. Clifton doesn’t lessen the beauty or impact of her poetry. God bless your soul, Benson66, it can’t always be about you. Nor should it be.
keep this in the place
you have for keeping
keep it all ways
we have never hated black
we have been ashamed
hopeless tired mad
we loved us
we have always loved each other
children all ways
pass it on