Divining Poets: Clifton

Lucille Clifton Tracy K. Smith (editor)

Plainspoken, empowering, spare, wise beyond measure, Clifton’s words are a balm and a force of good for all: “The surest failure / is the unattempted walk.”

Tracy K. Smith took a poetry workshop with Lucille Clifton following the death of her mother. The experience was an awakening. Clifton spoke of her own losses, centering not on the ideas of “letting go” or “making peace,” but of sustained communication with the departed. Clifton’s practices included using the Ouija board, or “spirit board,” as she called it, to make contact with the other world. “I sat rapt, envious, hopeful,” Smith writes, “listening to Clifton describe her own initiation into a fierce and forthright form of knowing.” Smith’s selections offer a gateway into the profound, moving, accessible, and useful notions of this essential poet.

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