poem index

sign up to receive a new poem-a-day in your inbox

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)

jasper texas 1998

Lucille Clifton, 1936 - 2010


for j. byrd


i am a man's head hunched in the road.
i was chosen to speak by the members
of my body.   the arm as it pulled away
pointed toward me, the hand opened once
and was gone.

why and why and why
should i call a white man brother?
who is the human in this place,
the thing that is dragged or the dragger?
what does my daughter say?

the sun is a blister overhead.
if i were alive i could not bear it.
the townsfolk sing we shall overcome
while hope bleeds slowly from my mouth
into the dirt that covers us all.
i am done with this dust.   i am done.

Lucille Clifton, "jasper texas 1998" from Collected Poems of Lucille Clifton. Copyright © 1991 by Lucille Clifton. Reprinted with the permission of The Permissions Company, Inc., on behalf of BOA Editions, Ltd., boaeditions.org.

Lucille Clifton, "jasper texas 1998" from Collected Poems of Lucille Clifton. Copyright © 1991 by Lucille Clifton. Reprinted with the permission of The Permissions Company, Inc., on behalf of BOA Editions, Ltd., boaeditions.org.

Lucille Clifton

Lucille Clifton

Lucille Clifton, the author of Blessing the Boats: New and Selected Poems 1988–2000 (BOA Editions, 2000), which won the National Book Award, was elected a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets in 1999.

by this poet

poem

(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
poem

so
the body
of one black man
is rag and stone
is mud
and blood
the body of one
black man
contains no life
worth loving
so the body
of one black man
is nobody
mama
mama
mamacita
is there no value
in this skin
mama
poem

my sister Josephine
born july in '29
and dead these 15 years
who carried a book
on every stroll.

when daddy was dying
she left the streets
and moved back home
to tend him.

her pimp came too
her Diamond Dick
and they would take turns