You might as well answer the door child, the truth, is furiously knocking.
homage to my hips
by Lucille Clifton
these hips are big hips they need space to move around in. they don’t fit into little petty places. these hips are free hips. they don’t like to be held back. these hips have never been enslaved, they go where they want to go they do what they want to do. these hips are mighty hips. these hips are magic hips. i have known them to put a spell on a man and spin him like a top!
I don’t write out of what I know; I write out of what I wonder. I think most artists create art in order to explore, not to give the answers. Poetry and art are not about answers to me; they are about questions.
Blessing the Boats
by Lucille Clifton
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
Lucille Clifton had the gift of sparse words imparting vast meaning. Her poetry is straightforward yet complex. Discovered by Langston Hughes through a mutual friend in New York, she succeeded on the strength of her talent and bright spirit. Clifton was an educator, children’s book author, poet, engaging speaker and civil rights leader. Clifton advanced ideas of equity through her art and educational leadership.
There is a motherly savviness to some of Clifton’s poetry that reassures me, good naturedly cajoles, lulls me into surprises and insight, while letting me wander about breezily in her words. I marvel at her imagery and her welcoming, supportive spirit.
Blessing The Boats, the title of her award winning anthology, is a remarkable poem in that it has no moorings of where you feel required as a reader to start or stop. I can chose to see it as a loop that I can plug into almost anywhere.
Sometimes I like to read a poem backwards. Not all poets work lend themselves to this, but it can be an interesting technique to enter a poem and the poets ideas in a different way. By reading it in reverse sequence, it allows me to focus on individual lines and not worry about trying to understand the whole of poem. Try reading Clifton’s Blessing the Boats from the bottom to the top, and see what rises on your internal wavelengths. What line sticks out in your mind? Is it a different line than you noticed the first time reading it through?
The idea of celebrating, a celebration of our lives every day is a hard thing to achieve. There are too many things that rub at us, over due bills, nagging coughs, unpleasant tasks required of us at work or home, down right unpleasantness like having surgery or a tooth removed, not to mention deaths of loved ones and deaths of relationships, sap our energy for celebrations. Loss and grief encroach on our sense of well being and the idea of celebration, of thinking of this very day as special fades into the background of grumbles, aches and pains and we forget that life is good.
Poetry as a meditative practice to reset my brain with positive images and thoughts is something I try to do daily as a way to remember to celebrate. I admit that part of my penchant for seeking out short poems, is I tire easily from longer poems if they fail to grab my interest early, in the first 10 lines. There is something pleasing about short poems, they feel contained, readable, a message waiting just for me, whereas long poems, short stories and novels feel much more impersonal.
Clifton asks an interesting question? Do any of us have a model or is the challenges she faced unique? Certainly I benefited by being white and male in looking about at the world in seeing options of what I could be and can be, but in the end the path I took was very much individual. I appreciate the challenges she articulates even if I can never completely understand them. I am not a woman, nor a person of color. I never faced institutionalized racism. Her path was much more challenging and filled with more barriers. It’s why her poems are inspirational. I think I can take something from her poetry and remember to celebrate and celebrate with her. Celebrate what I have shaped into some kind of life. How do you remember to celebrate?
a song of mary
by Lucille Clifton
somewhere it being yesterday.
i a maiden in my mother’s house.
the animals silent outside.
princes sitting on thrones in the east
studying the incomprehensible heavens.
joseph carving a table somewhere
in another place.
i watching my mother.
i smiling an ordinary smile.