I love Lucille Clifton. I’ve used her poems to convert suspicious undergraduates to the possibilities of poetry in our everyday lives. Once we got to that “i wish them cramps” in “wishes for sons,” hoooooneeeey, them kids didn’t know what hit ‘em! 

I never got to meet Lucille Clifton, but I’ve always felt kinda connected to her—I’m a six-fingered, poem scribbling, mama-loving June girl, too. If you don’t get it, that’s alright. I believe she would’ve. Honoree Jeffers is a daughter-poet to Miss Lucille and celebrates her work and life. I feel like a littlesisterpoet to Honoree who (also) loved her before they’d ever met. It’s hard to articulate, but I just wanted to know—even more than that, I wanted to be known by—Miss Lucille Clifton.

I was so hurt when I got wait-listed for Cave Canem’s Poetry Fellowship in 2009: I waited and waited for the news that there was room for me. I was crestfallen when it didn’t come. I was sad and bruised, then I said THE HELL WITH THEM! Aaaand then when I laid my righteous indignation down, I got to tightening up my poems so that I would make it next year. Come February the following year, I was heartbroken when I realized that I’d so narrowly missed my last chance to meet Lucille Clifton—she crossed over the day before Valentine’s Day in 2010. But when I was finally accepted as a CC fellow and attended my first poetry retreat in June 2010, I felt her spirit all around me. I felt loved by her because she loved Cave Canem. And Cave Canem loved me and her both.

My birthday was June 12th. And, honey, 31 was hard:  mean-hard and sweet-hard and I’m so glad that I’ve made it, continually, to and through all my days thus far. On my 32nd birthday, all I could think & hear was Miss Lucille’s words in my heart:

come celebrate
with me that everyday
something has tried to kill me
and has failed.

Miss Lucille’s birthday was June 27th and I am so deeply grateful for her life. 

Here’s the full-text of the poem, “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.

in peace & poem, y’all,

I met her at the Geraldine Dodge Poetry Festival when I was in high school. (Here’s her reading a couple of pieces at the fest that year.) I barely knew what to say, but I remember her being really gracious. That and running off by myself right after to go write because I was overwhelmed.

I’ve never done a “top 10 poets that move me in a big way” list, but if I did, she’d be in at least the top 3. “Won’t you celebrate with me” will never fail to wreck me when I read or hear it.


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