A Tribute to Lucille Clifton
In a moment of serendipity, at 2:50am today — 02.04.21 — I registered to attend this free Zoom event, celebrating the legacy of renowned poet and former Maryland Poet Laureate, Lucille Clifton. I signed in to this extraordinary and moving tribute – along with adult and teen writers from the Delmarva Peninsula and as far away as California – at 7:30 pm, sharp.
What transpired was an hour of pure magic! It was hosted by poet Tara A. Elliott, President of the Eastern Shore Writers Association (ESWA) and longtime friend and student of Clifton.
The program began with readings by young poets of both original poems and familiar poems by Clifton, including the poem “blessing the boats (at St. Mary’s),” which was read in both English and Spanish! Interspersed with these readings were video and audio recordings of Clifton reading some of her own work.
Elliott also reflected on Clifton’s thoughts about what poetry is …
A way of living in the world…
Said Elliott: “You come to poetry not out of what you know, but what you wonder, and everyone wonders something differently and at different times. “It’s about questions, not answers.”
And what poetry is not — “It is an honest mistake to try to figure out how it’s crafted, but it’s crafting is not what it is.”
The young poets, ranging from 13-year-old Bra’Dazia Ward – whose first poem was published last year – to high school-age writers, all fearlessly and fiercely shared their original works around the themes of Black History Month and Martin Luther King Day. They displayed a maturity of understanding of their subjects that rivals that of established adult poets.
Next came the speakers of the hour, Amber Green, a Youth Empowerment Leader, with an impressive resumé of civic and non-profit posts, including the founding of Fenix Youth Project — fenixyouthproject.org — and then Sidney Clifton.
The daughter of Lucille and Fred Clifton, Sidney is an Emmy-nominated producer/director, with 20 years of experience and credits in animated and live-action content.
These two women, from different generations, each brought to life the legacy of Lucille Clifton. Amber Green read 4 of her recent poems, one of which was so new that she had never read it aloud before, yet her delivery was masterful and moving.
Sidney Clifton read her essay, “Reclaiming Her Voice”, a brief but powerful memoir of her mother as both mother and poet, that was as evocative and emotional as her mother’s own works. By the end both she and the audience were in tears of catharsis and love.
The following lines of verse from Sidney’s essay captured the essence of magic that infused the evening.
We are responsible for freeing our voices
Our voices resound when we do the work
The work is done in silence
Silence births our visions and voices
Voices and visions are magic
Magic is an adjective and a verb
Magic is hard work
Not everyone will understand
Not everyone will be happy
Not everyone will share the vision
She followed up by recounting the genesis of her latest project: establishing the Clifton House, a creative retreat for writers and artists, at her childhood home in the Forest Park neighborhood of Baltimore; the home her family lost to foreclosure.
She described how, on February 13, 2019 – the ninth anniversary of her mother’s death, she learned that the house was for sale; and decided to buy it on the spot!
It was around this time that I became aware of the Center via a Facebook post about a fundraising drive to make the vision reality. I befriended Sidney on Facebook and Instagram and have since been following the effort.
Sidney then described her recent walkthrough of the house, as it is being renovated for a projected early summer 2021 virtual opening. An in-person opening is planned for June 27th of this year, Lucille’s birthday, depending on whether the pandemic is still with us or not.
During the walkthrough of the house prior to settlement, she discovered a closet that used to be a toy room for her and her siblings. She found her own name, written in cursive, on one of the walls of the closet. And exclaimed, “She [her mother] is still here!”
In closing remarks, Tara Elliott brought this Magic Hour full circle, explaining that the “ability to hope,” is Lucille Clifton’s true legacy; that Clifton believed that everything is connected.
Those beliefs are evident in Lucille’s poem spring song, which declares, “the future is possible.”