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CELEBRATING AMERICAN SHE-POETS (8): Lucille Clifton, homage to my hips

Lucille Clifton (1936-2010)
Lucille Clifton (1936-2010)

” . . . writing is a way of continuing to hope … perhaps for me it is a way of remembering I am not alone.” Lucille Clifton in an interview with Michael S. Glaser

I am one of those – like the people of Buffalo – who think of Lucille Clifton as a New Yorker. She was born in Depew and grew-up and was educated in Buffalo. I suppose some Californian’s claim her as theirs because she lived in Santa Cruz for a while. Most of the world, however, sees her as belonging to Maryland. I don’t know that she lived there longest but she was that state’s Poet Laureate from 1979 – 1985.

Lucille and Fred James Clifton (professor and sculptor)  were friends with writer, playwright and publisher Ishmael Reed. It was he who introduced them to one another when he organized the Buffalo Community Drama Workshop. They acted together in a version of The Glass Managerie.  Reed took some of Lucille’s poems to Langston Hughes who included them in The Poetry of the Negro, 1746-1970.

Lucille Clifton won many grants and awards including the Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize, the Shelley Memorial Award, and Lannan Literary Award for Poetry. Two of her books were finalists for the Pulitzer Prize. In addition to poetry collections, she wrote a memoir and twenty-some children’s books. The latter include the popular well-regarded Everett Anderson series.

“Lucille Clifton is an African-American whose consciousness of her race and gender informs all of her poetry, though she never gets preachy. Instead, she has chosen a minimalist mode that clears out human society’s clutter, the mess we’ve made by identifying ourselves in contending genders, ethnicities, nations. Lightly, as if biting her tongue, with a wise smile, she shows us a radically egalitarian world where no one or no capitalized word lords it over others. …” Peggy Rosenthal, The Christian Century

Denise Levertov wrote of Lucille Clifton’s work as “authentic and profound.” I find it marked by pragmatism, strength, endurance and humor. You will see the later demonstrated in this poem and her intro to it, her ode: 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

– Lucille Clifton

© Lucille Clifton, “homage to my hips” from her collection Good Woman: Poems and a Memoir 1969-1980 (BOA Editions Ltd., 1987) – definitely recommended

© introduction, Jamie Dedes; Lucille Clifton’s portrait is from her Amazon Page.

Celebrating American She-Poets (6): Young People’s Poet Laureate, Jacqueline Woods … Brown Girl Dreaming

Jacqueline Woodson by David Shankbone under CC By SA 3.0 license
Jacqueline Woodson by David Shankbone under CC By SA 3.0 license

American poet and writer, Jacqueline Woods (b. 1963) was named Young People’s Poet Laureate in June last year by The Poetry Foundation. The $25,000 laureate award is given every two years to poets devoted to writing quality poetry for children and youth. Poetry Foundation President, Robert Polito, said Jacqueline is an “elegant, daring, and restlessly innovative writer.”

Jacqueline has written some thirty books. She’s won a National Book Award and three Newberry Honor Medals.

51-Pl9BJ7IL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_I just finished reading Brown Girl Dreaming, a memoir in free verse that is not just for brown girls. It can be read in one sitting but like all good poetry is meant to be relished … there is much to savor.

What I like about this work – and what in part accounts for its popularity – is that it puts family life and youthful reflection smack-dab in the context of history. Woodson grew-up during the civil rights movement and tells of watching the Black Panthers on television and sitting in the back of the bus, though Woodson’s mother made a point of affirming for her children that they were as good as anyone.

I enjoyed – and think most kids would too – how Woodson writes about the contradictions in family stories. The day, for example, that she is born is reported differently by mother, father and grandmother, each absolutely sure that he or she is the only one who got it right.

This is a wonderful book for any young person. I venture to say, however,  if yours is a child who dreams of being a writer and can’t envision it happening, then you must put this book in that child’s hands. S/he will be forever grateful.

© 2016, Jamie Dedes

Poetry … “An art that lives in time …”

IMG_3151From Muriel Rukeyser, a little something for us all to munch on today ….

“The relations of poetry are, for our period, very close to the relations of science. It is not a matter of using the results of science, but of seeing that there is a meeting-place between all the kinds of imagination.  Poetry can provide that meeting-place.

“… a poem is not its words or its images, any more than as symphony is its notes or a river its drops on water.  Poetry depends on the moving relations within itself.  It is an art that lives in time, expressing and evoking the moving relations between the individual consciousness and the world.  The work that a poem does is a transfer of human energy, and I think human energy may be defined as consciousness, the capacity to make change in existing conditions.  It appears to me that to accept poetry in these meanings would make it possible for people to use it as an “exercise,” an enjoyment of the possibility of dealing with the meanings in the world and in their lives.”

Notes from the author, The Life of Poetry (recommended), Muriel Rukeyser (1913-1980), American poet and political activist

Celebrating American She-Poets (3): Elizabeth Bishop, “One Art”

Elizabeth Bishop, 1934 Vassar Yearbook, Public Domain Photograph
Elizabeth Bishop, 1934 Vassar Yearbook, Public Domain Photograph

Elizabeth Bishop (1911-1979), a poet and short-story writer, was U.S. Poet Laureate from 1949-1950.  She won a Pulitzer Prize for poetry in 1958, the National Book Award in 1970 and she received the Neustadt International Prize for Literature in 1976. One of her most loved – world renown – poems was One Art.

When people are good at their work, they seem to do their jobs effortlessly. We never see the hours of practice behind the dancer’s bravura performance or the pianist’s breathtaking delivery nor the years of experience behind the actor’s overnight success, the accountant’s instant analysis or the cook’s fabulously original meal pulled together with left-overs and kitchen odds-and-ends. And so it is with the practiced precision of poetry …

EB Collected PoemsElizabeth Bishop’s One Art  seems effortless but over the course of years she rewrote it seventeen times.

 In the short video that follows Professor M. Mark at Vassar College (Bishop’s alma mater) discusses Elizabeth Bishop, her work, and her only villanelle,* One Art, which is included in The Complete Poems 1926-1978 (recommended reading). .

One Art

The art of losing isn’t hard to master;
so many things seem filled with the intent
to be lost that their loss is no disaster.

Lose something every day. Accept the fluster
of lost door keys, the hour badly spent.
The art of losing isn’t hard to master.

Then practice losing farther, losing faster:
places, and names, and where it was you meant
to travel. None of these will bring disaster.

I lost my mother’s watch. And look! my last, or
next-to-last, of three loved houses went.
The art of losing isn’t hard to master.

I lost two cities, lovely ones. And, vaster,
some realms I owned, two rivers, a continent.
I miss them, but it wasn’t a disaster.

—Even losing you (the joking voice, a gesture
I love) I shan’t have lied. It’s evident
the art of losing’s not too hard to master
though it may look like (Write it!) like disaster.

– Elizabeth Bishop

Video uploaded by Vassar College.

* Vinanelle ~ a nineteen-line poem with two rhymes throughout, consisting of five tercets and a quatrain, with the first and third lines of the opening tercet recurring alternately at the end of the other tercets and with both repeated at the close of the concluding quatrain. New Oxford American Dictionary

© 2016, words, Jamie Dedes, All rights reserved