Lucille Clifton | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

Lucille Clifton 

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There's a certain frustration attached to any attempt to describe the work of Lucille Clifton, whose wise, rounded verse feels as if it's already said it all. Clifton's poems are quiet but also furious. They're spare, funny, often biblical, and heartbreaking--testaments to her commitment to "the balance of intellect and intuition" and the challenge of "involving oneself authentically" in life through poetry. More often than not she succeeds in this challenge, grappling honestly with her experience as an African-American woman as well as universal human issues. Clifton gained national attention in 1969 with her first book of poems, Good Times; since then she's published over 30 volumes of poetry and children's literature, raised six children, survived a kidney transplant and three cancers, been poet laureate of Maryland, and held various academic positions, most recently at Saint Mary's College in Baltimore. She's the only poet to have had two books nominated for a Pulitzer in the same year, and she's even won an Emmy, for her contribution to Free to Be You and Me. In town this week as a guest of the Poetry Center and the Gwendolyn Brooks Center at Chicago State University, Clifton is often compared to Brooks--whose famous term for Clifton was "warmwisewoman"--as well as Maya Angelou and Nikki Giovanni. And I'd put Clifton's shorter and less well-known anthem of body acceptance, "Homage to My Hips," up against Angelou's "Phenomenal Woman" any day. On this occasion she'll most likely be reading from both her latest collection, Blessing the Boats, which won the 2000 National Book Award for poetry, and Mercy, due out this fall, which reportedly concerns the death of her daughter from cancer. Clifton reads at 6:30 PM Wednesday, May 12, in the ballroom of the School of the Art Institute, 112 S. Michigan. 312-899-1229. $10.

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