Plainspoken, empowering, spare, wise beyond measure, Clifton's words are a balm and a force of good for all: "The surest failure / is the unattempted walk."
Tracy K. Smith took a poetry workshop with Lucille Clifton following the death of her mother. The experience was an awakening. Clifton spoke of her own losses, centering not on the ideas of "letting go" or "making peace," but of sustained communication with the departed. Clifton's practices included using the Ouija board, or "spirit board," as she called it, to make contact with the other world. "I sat rapt, envious, hopeful," Smith writes, "listening to Clifton describe her own initiation into a fierce and forthright form of knowing." Smith's selections offer a gateway into the profound, moving, accessible, and useful notions of this essential poet.
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About the Author
Lucille Clifton (1936-2010), discovered by Langston Hughes, is renowned for writing lean and profound lines that explore strength over struggle, family life, and the Black experience. She was the first poet to have two of her collections selected as finalists for the Pulitzer Prize in the same year. She also received the Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize, and served as a chancellor of the Academy of American Poets. In 2000, she won the National Book Award.Tracy K. Smith served two terms as U.S. Poet Laureate. The author of four poetry collections, including the Pulitzer Prize-winning Life on Mars and the memoir Ordinary Light, she is also the editor of an anthology, American Journal: Fifty Poems for Our Time, and cotranslator (with Changtai Bi) of My Name Will Grow Wide Like a Tree: SelectedPoems by Yi Lei. A Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets, Smith lives in Newton, Massachusetts.