Poets & Writers

A Poet a Day: Lucille Clifton

"won't you celebrate with me"

A Poet a Day: Lucille Clifton

During these trying days of social distancing, self-isolating and quarantines, days rife with fear and anxiety, my colleagues and I thought you might like some company. So each day we will be introducing you to poets we have met over the years. The only contagion they will expose you to is a measure of joy, reflection and meditation brought on by “the best words in the best order.” Enjoy.
— Bill Moyers

Today we remember and celebrate the poetry of Lucille Clifton. Lucille Clifton’s poetry, legendary for its sparseness of word and punctuation, spoke unflinchingly of personal hardship, the history of oppression and the human condition. She was a standout in several programs we produced over the years on the wonders of poetry.

Here we present two of her poems.

“homage to my hips”

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!

“won’t you celebrate with me”

won’t you celebrate with me
what i have shaped into

a kind of life? had no model.
born in babylon
both nonwhite and woman
what did i see to be except myself?
i made it up
here on this bridge between
starshine and clay,
my one hand holding tight
my other hand; come celebrate
with me that everyday
something has tried to kill me
and has failed.

“Things don’t fall apart. Things hold. Lines connect in thin ways that last and last and lives become generations made out of pictures and words just kept.” – Lucille Clifton

Lucille Clifton, who died in 2010 at the age of 73, learned to love language as a child listening to poems written by her mother, a woman who never finished grade school.

Inheriting that love of language and the spirit of her mom, Lucille Clifton wrote poetry of her own for twenty years before she was actually published. But with her first collections of poems, she quickly gained recognition that just kept growing over time. Over a long and prolific career Clifton published more than 30 books that probed the indignations of slavery, celebrated the day-to-day events of life and community, and chronicled, with frank and poignant sensuality the frailties and pleasures of the human body.

Lucille Clifton was a two-time finalist for the Pulitzer Prize — in the same year, 1988 — something that had never happened before. In 2000, she received the National Book Award for “Blessing The Boat: New And Selected Poems,” and then in 2007, became the First African American woman to receive The Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize — one of American poetry’s most prestigious poetry honors.

Lucille Clifton, “homage to my hips” from Good Woman. Copyright © 1987 by Lucille Clifton. Reprinted with the permission of Curtis Brown, Ltd.

Watch more of Lucille Clifton in our archive.

See all poets in the A Poet a Day Collection.