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“Poetry surprises and deepens our sense of the ordinary. Poetry tells us that the world is full of wonder, revelation, consolation, and meaning.”
—Tracy K. Smith, U.S. Poet Laureate (2017– )
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Lucille Clifton
Lucille Clifton

blessing the boats

About this poet

Lucille Clifton was born in Depew, New York, on June 27, 1936. Her first book of poems, Good Times (Random House, 1969), was rated one of the best books of the year by the New York Times.

Clifton remained employed in state and federal government positions until 1971, when she became a writer in residence at Coppin State College in Baltimore, Maryland, where she completed two collections: Good News About the Earth (Random House, 1972) and An Ordinary Woman (Random House, 1974).

She was the author of  several other collections of poetry, including Blessing the Boats: New and Selected Poems 1988–2000 (BOA Editions, 2000), which won the National Book Award; Good Woman: Poems and a Memoir 1969-1980 (BOA Editions, 1987), which was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize; and Two-Headed Woman (University of Massachusetts Press, 1980), also a Pulitzer Prize nominee as well as the recipient of the University of Massachusetts Press Juniper Prize.

Clifton was also the author of Generations: A Memoir (Random House, 1976) and more than sixteen books for children, written expressly for an African-American audience.

Of her work, Rita Dove has written: “In contrast to much of the poetry being written today—intellectualized lyricism characterized by an application of inductive thought to unusual images—Lucille Clifton’s poems are compact and self-sufficient...Her revelations then resemble the epiphanies of childhood and early adolescence, when one’s lack of preconceptions about the self allowed for brilliant slippage into the metaphysical, a glimpse into an egoless, utterly thingful and serene world.”

Her honors include an Emmy Award from the American Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, a Lannan Literary Award, two fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Shelley Memorial Award, the YM-YWHA Poetry Center Discovery Award, and the 2007 Ruth Lilly Prize.

In 1999, she was elected a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets. She served as Poet Laureate for the State of Maryland from 1979 to 1985, and Distinguished Professor of Humanities at St. Mary’s College of Maryland.

After a long battle with cancer, Lucille Clifton died on February 13, 2010, at the age of seventy-three.

Selected Bibliography

Poetry
The Collected Poems of Lucille Clifton: 1965–2010 (BOA Editions, 2012)
Voices: Poems (BOA Editions, 2008)
Mercy: Poems (BOA Editions, 2004)
Blessing the Boats: New and Selected Poems, 1988–2000 (BOA Editions, 2000)
The Terrible Stories: Poems (BOA Editions, 1996)
The Book of Light (Copper Canyon Press, 1993)
Quilting: Poems, 1987–1990 (BOA Editions, 1991)
Good Woman: Poems and a Memoir (BOA Editions, 1987)
Next: New Poems (BOA Editions, 1987)
Two-Headed Woman (University of Massachusetts Press, 1980)
An Ordinary Woman (Random House, 1974)
Good News About the Earth (Random House, 1972)
Good Times (Random House, 1969)

Prose
Generations: A Memoir (Random House, 1976)

Children's Literature
Three Wishes (Viking Press, 1976)
The Boy Who Didn't Believe in Spring (Dutton, 1973)
Some of the Days of Everett Anderson (Rinehart and Winston, 1970)
The Black BC's (Dutton, 1970)
 

blessing the boats

(at St. Mary's)

may the tide
that is entering even now
the lip of our understanding
carry you out
beyond the face of fear
may you kiss
the wind then turn from it
certain that it will
love your back    may you
open your eyes to water
water waving forever
and may you in your innocence
sail through this to that

From Quilting: Poems 1987-1990 by Lucille Clifton. Copyright © 2001 by Lucille Clifton. Reprinted with permission of BOA Editions Ltd. All rights reserved.

From Quilting: Poems 1987-1990 by Lucille Clifton. Copyright © 2001 by Lucille Clifton. Reprinted with permission of BOA Editions Ltd. All rights reserved.

Poetry and the Creative Mind
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collection

Classic Books of American Poetry

This collection of books showcases the masterpieces of American poetry that have influenced—or promise to influence—generations of poets. Take a look.

poem

These Poems

These poems
they are things that I do
in the dark
reaching for you
whoever you are
and
are you ready?

These words
they are stones in the water
running away

These skeletal lines
they are desperate arms for my longing and love.

I am a stranger
learning to worship the strangers
around me

whoever you are
whoever I may become.

June Jordan
2017
poem

Always on the Train

Writing poems about writing poems
is like rolling bales of hay in Texas.
Nothing but the horizon to stop you.

But consider the railroad's edge of metal trash;
bird perches, miles of telephone wires.
What is so innocent as grazing cattle?
If you think about it, it turns into words.

Trash is so cheerful; flying up
like grasshoppers in front of the reaper.
The dust devil whirls it aloft; bronze candy wrappers,
squares of clear plastic—windows on a house of air.

Below the weedy edge in last year's mat,
red and silver beer cans.
In bits blown equally everywhere,
the gaiety of flying paper
and the black high flung patterns of flocking birds.
Ruth Stone
2003
Acadia National Park. Courtesy of the National Park Service
poem

Like You

translated by Jack Hirschman

Like you I
love love, life, the sweet smell
of things, the sky-blue
landscape of January days.

And my blood boils up
and I laugh through eyes
that have known the buds of tears.

I believe the world is beautiful
and that poetry, like bread, is for everyone.

And that my veins don’t end in me
but in the unanimous blood
of those who struggle for life,
love,
little things,
landscape and bread,
the poetry of everyone.


Como Tú

Yo, como tu,
amo el amor, la vida, el dulce encanto
de las cosas, el paisaje
celeste de los días de enero.

También mi sangre bulle
y río por los ojos
que han conocido el brote de las lágrimas.

Creo que el mundo es bello,
que la poesía es como el pan, de todos.

Y que mis venas no terminan en mí
sino en la sange unánime
de los que luchan por la vida,
el amor,
las cosas,
el paisaje y el pan,
la poesía de todos.

Roque Dalton
2018
collection

A Poet's Glossary

Read about poetic terms and forms from Edward Hirsch's A Poet's Glossary (Harcourt, 2014), a book ten years in the making that defines the art form of poetry.  

AASL Best Website for Teaching & Learning
poem

Poetry Is a Destructive Force

That's what misery is,
Nothing to have at heart. 
It is to have or nothing. 

It is a thing to have, 
A lion, an ox in his breast, 
To feel it breathing there.
 
Corazon, stout dog, 
Young ox, bow-legged bear, 
He tastes its blood, not spit. 

He is like a man 
In the body of a violent beast. 
Its muscles are his own . . .

The lion sleeps in the sun. 
Its nose is on its paws. 
It can kill a man. 
Wallace Stevens
1980
Spring–Summer 2018 issue of American Poets
collection

Lesson Plans for Introducing Poetry

Bring poems into the classroom with these lesson plans, which are especially suited to introducing students to poetry and helping them become engaged and thoughtful readers.