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Saturday, June 27, 2015

Write to 'celebrate'

“Poetry is a matter of life, not just a matter of language.” – Lucille Clifton

Born this day near Buffalo, NY, Clifton both studied and lived in Washington, DC, before settling in her adopted Maryland where from 1979–1985 she was the state’s Poet Laureate. Common topics in her poetry include the celebration of her African American heritage, and feminist themes, but she also is a powerful portrayer of daily life in the city and the home.

Her writing began as a hobby and outlet for her thoughts and feelings, but when a friend who also was a friend of the poet Langston Hughes passed along some of her work to him, he encouraged her to stop her job and concentrate on writing.  Her first poetry collection Good Times was published in 1969, and was an instant success, listed by The New York Times as one of the year's 10 best books.  She expanded her writing and was invited to be poet-in-residence at Coppin State College in Baltimore in the early ‘70s, setting a successful path on a writing and teaching career. 
Lucille Clifton

She always attributed her success to her joy of writing poetry and writing about the world around her.  “People wish to be poets more than they wish to write poetry, and that’s a mistake,” she said.  “One should wish to celebrate more than one wishes to be celebrated.”

As someone who has always loved history and is now writing historical fiction, I was taken by her great poem I am accused.  I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.

I am accused
By Lucille Clifton

i am accused of tending to the past
as if i made it,
as if i sculpted it
with my own hands. i did not.
this past was waiting for me
when i came,
a monstrous unnamed baby,
and i with my mother's itch
took it to breast
and named it
she is more human now,
learning languages everyday,
remembering faces, names and dates.
when she is strong enough to travel
on her own, beware, she will.

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