Conversations Magazine, March/April 2024

Conversations Magazine, March/April 2024

Friday, November 2, 2012

Tony Lindsay Presents... Poet Lucille Clifton

In poetry, merit does not always equal celebrity. The poet who creates life through dialect, tone, and meter frequently lives an unrecognized life. And for many poets this is acceptable, but for the reader this forgotten legacy is a cultural loss.  
A poet who brought life to paper through the dialect of urban Blacks, the cadence of the Blues, and the oppressive tone of American society was Lucille Clifton. From, ‘Black Women Writer (1950-1980)’ Clifton states:
“I use a simple language. I have never believed that for anything to be valid or true or intellectual or “deep” it had to first be complex. I deliberately use the language that I use. Sometimes people have asked me when I was going to try something hard or difficulty, as if my work sprang from ignorance. I like to think that I write from my knowledge not my lack, from my strength not my weakness. I am not interested if anyone knows whether or not I am familiar with big words, I am interested in trying to render big ideas in a simple way. I am interested in being understood not admired. I wish to celebrate and not be celebrated (though a little celebration is a lot of fun)” (137).
Maryland’s Poet Laureate from 1979-1985 she was not a stranger to some celebrity, but what is argued here is that her name does not ring with the familiarity it deserves within America’s literary canon or within the Black community.  
                                                                i bless the black
                                                                skin of the woman
                                                                and the black
                                                                night turning around her
                                                                like a star’s bed
                                                                and the black
                                                                sound of Delilah
                                                                across his prayers
                                                                for they have made me

she understands me
                                                                it is all blood and breaking,
                                                                blood and breaking. the thing
                                                                drops out of its box squalling
                                                                into the light. They are both squalling,
animal and cage. her bars lie wet, open
                                                                and empty and she made herself again
                                                                out of flesh out of dictionaries,
                                                                she is always emptying and it is all
                                                                the same wound the same blood the same breaking
For more of this seldom celebrated writer read -  ‘good woman: poems and a memoir 1969-1980’ by Lucille Clifton.

Tony Lindsay is an award-winning author and adjunct professor at Chicago State University. His new book ONE DEAD DOCTOR was selected as one of Conversations' 25 Summer Reads of 2012 and is available now on Tony can be reached at or on Facebook at

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