Lucille Clifton

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Lucille Clifton in 2013
what did i see to be except myself?

Lucille Clifton (June 27, 1936February 13, 2010) was an American poet, writer, and educator from Buffalo, New York. From 1979 to 1985 she was Poet Laureate of Maryland. Clifton was nominated twice for the Pulitzer Prize for poetry.


  • born in babylon
    both nonwhite and woman
    what did i see to be except myself?
    • The Book of Light (1993), "song at midnight", lines 17–19
  • Other than “the unanswerable question”… It’s the heart speaking, maybe that, maybe the human heart speaking.
  • … A lot of women have borne a lot of things; a lot of people have borne a lot of things. There’s a certain kind of human that I want to be. There is not shame in my life. There is certainly misfortune, but I’m not the only one. I do know that. And sometimes, one of the things poetry can do is say to an audience: you are not alone. It can also speak for those who have not yet found their voice to speak. That’s part of the human condition. And if we’re going to talk about humans, why are we just going to talk about the pretty ones.

Quotes about Lucille Clifton


The Beloved Lucille Clifton.

  • (The book that...shaped my worldview:) Lucille Clifton’s poetry collection Good Woman. I have long considered her the secret godmother of my writing since I was 15, and this was the first collection of hers I owned.
  • In Lucille Clifton's Generations, there's that sense of fun and joy. In Toni Cade, there's that sense of high-spiritedness. I don't mean comedy, and I don't mean jokes or anything. But part of this business of living in the world and triumphing over it has to do with a sense that there's some pleasure.
    • 1976 interview in Conversations with Toni Morrison edited by Danille K. Taylor-Guthrie (1994)
  • I would also suggest that everyone read the poetry of Lucille Clifton, a black heterodox Christian woman who seems to me the most important spiritual poet in America today.
  • Lucille stayed late, singing the song of/carrying on, admitting the truth.../"Things don't fall apart. Things hold. Lines connect/in thin ways that last and last . . ."/Lucille gave everything she had.
  • People I read a lot to my son were people like Robert Bly and Lucille Clifton, Frank O’Hara for some reason, Chinese poems, Japanese poems.
  • One of my favorite poets is Lucille Clifton, author of a good number of fine books, including Blessing the Boats, Quilting, and Two-Headed Woman.
  • Food in these poems is a connection to the natural world, to what Lucille Clifton calls "the bond of live things everywhere" in her poem, "cutting greens."
    • Melissa Tuckey Ghost Fishing : An Eco-Justice Poetry Anthology (2018) p107
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