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Monday, May 13, 2013

Lucille Clifton

"I have a feeling that sometimes rather than wrestle and look for words, you have to be still and let them come."

Lucille Clifton
American Poet / Writer
1936 - 2010

People sometimes perceive writers and poets as spending their days wrestling with words until they find the perfect word.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  Yes, there a moments of revision and some will revise for years searching for the best word to convey the meaning.  But sometimes writers are lucky and the words appear as if out of nowhere.  A good writer, artist and creative leader learns how to remain still and listen.

Creative Exercise
Find a quiet spot where you will not be bothered by people and their electronic gadgets.  Spend 10 to 15 minutes listening to the sounds both within your head and outside.  Then take out your paper and pen and write for 10 minutes.  Repeat this process 5 times throughout the week.  At the end of the week review your work.  For an artist, repeat the same process and draw instead of write.

Lucille Clifton was born in Depew, New York.  She graduated from high school in 1953 and attended Howard University and the State University of New York at Fredonia.  She married Fred James Clifton, a professor of Philosophy and sculptor, in 1958.  The novelist Ishmael Reed introduced them while he was organizing the Buffalo Community Drama Workshop.  Reed also shared her poetry with Langston Hughes who included them in his anthology, The Poetry of the Negro.

Clifton's first poetry collection, Good Times, was published in 1969.  She was poet-in-residence at Coppin State College in Baltimore from 1971 - 1974.  She was the Poet Laureate of Maryland from 1979 - 1985.  Over the years she has taught at Columbia University, George Washington University, University of California at Santa Cruz, St. Mary's College of Maryland and Dartmouth College.

Clifton published 14 collections of poetry and won numerous awards including the Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize in 2007, the National Book Award in 2000 and the 1996 Lannan Literary Award for Poetry.  She also wrote and published 18 children's books.  Her children's book, Everett Anderson's Goodbye, won the Coretta Scott King Award in 1984.

In Clifton's interview with Bill Moyer for his series the Language of Life, she said: "I was not trained as a poet, and I've never taken poetry lessons or had workshops.  Nobody taught me anything much, really.  So, I learned how to learn, and what I learned is that I could be still and allow the world and the impressions and the feelings — I'm very good with feelings — to come to me, and I could use our language to write them down."

Here is Lucille Clifton reading her poem, won't you celebrate with me.