Lucille Clifton Reads “Won’t You Celebrate With Me”
A glorious ode to claiming one’s belonging in that space between starshine and clay.
By Maria Popova
“One should wish to celebrate more than one wishes to be celebrated,” poet Lucille Clifton (June 27, 1936–February 13, 2010) told Poets & Writers Magazine in 1992. And celebrate she did — for more than half a century, Clifton was an unparalleled and unflinching celebrator of the African American experience, the female body, and the human spirit. A government clerk who became a self-taught poet, then the poet laureate of Maryland, she has influenced generations of writers and artists. Her work continues to envelop in radiance the hard edges of life.
In this recording from the Geraldine R. Dodge Poetry Festival, Clifton reads one of her most piercing poems, “won’t you celebrate with me,” found in the altogether magnificent Collected Poems of Lucille Clifton 1965–2010 (public library):
won’t you celebrate with me
what i have shaped into
a kind of life? i had no model.
born in babylon
both nonwhite and woman
what did i see to be except myself?
i made it up
here on this bridge between
starshine and clay,
my one hand holding tight
my other hand; come celebrate
with me that everyday
something has tried to kill me
and has failed.
Complement the wholly elevating Collected Poems of Lucille Clifton with a beautiful ode to what poetry does for the human spirit by Elizabeth Alexander, for whom Clifton has been a formative influence.
Published September 1, 2015