The New York Times
Dear John (Freeman),
I prayed before writing you this letter, on this evening, when young African American folks have taken to the streets to protest Derek Chauvin murdering George Floyd in Minneapolis. Once again, a white police officer has killed a Black person. This is a scary moment for me, a southern, Black woman who has tended historical altars for 30 years. This is a burning time, and I am quite familiar with fire.
To understand the great body of work that Lucille Clifton left after her death in 2010—the evolving body, for more poems are being excavated all the time—you must understand that Black history informs much of her work. There is the generous verse she offered everyone, regardless of racial or gender identification. This was her benediction, and because of that gift, many want to read disembodied, deracinated impulses in Clifton’s poems, seeking a so-called universal meaning.
The Kenyon Review
My mother never told any hard-luck stories about the Jim Crow South on purpose. She talked to me about the brutality, the racism, but always had a way of framing herself as a heroine in her stories. Once, when I was talking to her about a mass lynching that had taken place in Walton County, Georgia, in 1946—I’d read about it in a book—Mama casually mentioned, “Oh yes, I remember that. That happened right up the road from me.”
The Kenyon Review
The first slave ship landed on the shore and an African disembarked, meeting her fate. A couple of centuries and some change later, that slave’s great-great-great- and too-many-greats-to-mention descendants toted sacks down cotton rows, looked up at that fiendish sun. Bore the sacks up again.
Then happened a Saturday night: a backwoods joint and the sweetness of a lowdown lover, the pint jar …
Sit in any poetry workshop in any Master of Fine Arts in creative writing program, except perhaps Chicago State University (which has a ninety-nine percent African-American enrollment) and at least once a semester, your professor eventually will shout Ezra Pound’s Modernist exhortation of “make it new!” …
In the beginning chapter of his 1990 masterpiece, Poétique de la Relation (published seven years later in the United States as Poetics of Relation), the Caribbean poet, writer, and critic Édouard Glissant, uses the metaphor of the “abyss” to describe the Middle Passage, the journey on which over twelve million kidnapped Africans embarked to their eventual destination as slaves …