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  • NYS Writers Institute

Born #OTD: Poet Lucille Clifton

We celebrate the late poet Lucille Clifton, born on this date in 1936.

A two-time finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for poetry, Lucille Clifton (June 27, 1936 – February 13, 2010) served as Poet Laureate of Maryland from 1979 to 1985, and was a featured guest during our 1995 season.

Toni Morrison, the editor of Clifton’s memoir Generations, might have put it best, writing that Clifton’s verse was “seductive with the simplicity of an atom” but also “highly complex, explosive underneath an apparent quietude.” 

By the end of her career, Lucille Clifton had achieved a rare stature. Critically acclaimed and widely read, she was a lodestar, a bright point for the poetry world to follow.

She is often read alongside fellow writers in the Black Arts and second-wave feminist movements, such as Nikki Giovanni and Audre Lorde, because of the stories Clifton told about Black life, family, and womanhood. Best known for anthems of triumph and self-definition, such as “won’t you celebrate with me,” Clifton was a prolific poet who wrote fearlessly about a range of important topics.

cutting greens

Lucille Clifton


curling them around

i hold their bodies in obscene embrace

thinking of everything but kinship.

collards and kale

strain against each strange other

away from my kissmaking hand and

the iron bedpot.

the pot is black,

the cutting board is black,

my hand,

and just for a minute

the greens roll black under the knife,

and the kitchen twists dark on its spine

and I taste in my natural appetite

the bond of live things everywhere.


From The Collected Poems of Lucille Clifton. Copyright © 1987 by Lucille Clifton. 

Source: Good Woman: Poems and a Memoir (BOA Editions, Ltd., 1980)


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