Sunday, February 14, 2010

Sad Day: RIP Lucille Clifton

45º melting and mud, a sun I'd rather do without

Lucille Clifton did not drive, and that was a gift to me. In 1994, Clifton spent a week at my undergrad alma mater, the College of St. Benedict, as poet-in-residence. I had graduated the previous year, but my mentor, S. Mara Faulkner, arranged for me to return for the special workshop with Clifton and to attend all of the various readings and talks she gave. While I was there, I drove Clifton between the two campuses of CSB and St. John's University, our brother school. Sixteen years later, I've never forgotten that week.

What I remember most is Clifton's huge laugh and the smiles that extended clean up to her shining eyes. I was a very young poet, even for my already young age, not having experienced much of life yet. I'm a talker and a question-pesterer. Here was this older, wiser, amazing poet who never once lost patience with me. In fact, during one particular conversation exchanged at the bathroom sinks, I had my first encounter with a much more accomplished poet who spoke to me as an equal, regardless of my inexperience. I would go on to meet many other poets, especially in grad school, and far too many of them spoke down to me as a "lowly student." Not this woman of generous spirit.

This is the inscription she made for me in The Book of Light:
For Sandy ~ Thanks for being here -- Sister, Woman, Poet -- Joy! Lucille Clifton 3/94"

I love Clifton's poetry for its rawness, its compressed images, and its willingness to be vulnerable. Even with her passing, through her poems she will continue to inspire me and teach me about life at large because she exposed her one, unique life to the world.

One of my favorite poems:

here yet be dragons

so many languages have fallen
off of the edge of the world
into the dragon's mouth. some

where there be monsters whose teeth
are sharp and sparkle with lost

people. lost poems. who
among us can imagine ourselves
unimagined? who

among us can speak with so fragile
tongue and remain proud?

Support a Poet/Poetry: Buy/Borrow a Copy of this Book Today
The Book of Light
Lucille Clifton
Copper Canyon Press, 1993


Karen J. Weyant said...

A wonderful tribute, Sandy!

Sandy Longhorn said...

Thanks, K.

Anne said...

This post embodies what makes a good teacher and mentor (as well as a good human being). It's a wonderful remembrance and reminder. Thanks.

Sandy Longhorn said...

Thanks, A.

Anonymous said...

How lucky for you to have met this generous & big-hearted poet so early in your writing life--thanks for sharing the story.

Sandy Longhorn said...

Yes, M., it was a pivotal moment for me. Still sad today.