Poetry Reading: Lucille Clifton

Attended a great reading tonight by Lucille Clifton. I’ve been a fan of her work ever since I picked up a collection of hers. And on looking on what I wrote that day… I found out something tonight. Clifton writes a lot in her head. And according to her, particularly for her early poems, she was busy tending to several children throughout the day – and her poems were short because she could only keep 15 or so lines in her head at one time.

I like her stuff a lot. I’m sure that, if you go digging around this blog, you’ll find a few poems that I’ve posted that are hers.

Here’s a shot of the ballroom, prior to the reading.

Why is it that I make the goofy face during these shots? I tried to get a big grin, but right after it gave out, the flash went off.

Tonight was a blast, even though I ended up going to this thing alone. In some respects, I’m sort of happy I did get to do it alone. It felt good.

Clifton’s reading was super fun. For those that don’t go to poetry readings – I highly suggest it. Half the fun is in hearing the back stories behind the poems, and this storytelling in some ways helps set up the poems. Hearing artists perform is one thing (akin to listening to a CD or whatnot), but hearing how they got their ideas/inspiration, and what they thought prior to, or as they, wrote… that’s pretty interesting stuff.

At the start of the reading, there was this big group of high school kids who filled up the back few rows. They were fairly loud and, when the reading began, had a few obnoxious ones in the bunch. After some of the introductory remarks and the typical polite applause that follows… a few of them kept on clapping at an overly exaggerated volume and fervor. Sort of annoying, but whatever. As this continued, I found myself thinking… just you wait. I was looking forward to Clifton reading her work, and shutting these suckers up with her poems.

And you know what? I honestly felt she did that. Sure, they were still a bit rowdy. But there were several moments during the reading (some through humor, some through honesty) that turned the audience into a single entity. When she threw out something super funny, everyone was laughing at the same volume and with the same depth. When she spoke something heavy and honest and vulnerable, everyone got silent – you could feel the air drop in the room.

Her pace throughout was fantastic. After each poem, she’d pause for about three or four seconds, and immediately launch into a story about the next poem. Starting off these stories, she would say things like I’ve had cancer three times or My sister was a prostitute. One of the more memorable comments was her talking about her love of sci-fi movies like King Kong. “I’m a Godzilla person,” is how she described herself, and even sang that song the little women in the box sing to invoke Mothra. Clifton noted that, in all those monster movies, the monsters always went after white girls. Even as a little girl – that was something she noticed.

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