The world lost Lucille Clifton last week. A respected children’s author and poet, she was twice a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize, won a National Book Award and the Ruth Lily Poetry Prize.
I have been reading some of her poems. They are spare but they bulge with wisdom and emotion. Through her poem “won’t you celebrate with me,” I learned riffing applies to poetry as well as to music.
Listen to Clifton read her poem here. http://www.poetryfoundation.org/archive/poem.html?id=181377
Clifton refers to and echoes poems by Whitman and Keats in her poem. Whitman, who gave us free verse, confidently states “I celebrate myself” in “Song of Myself.” Clifton’s speaker tentatively invites us to celebrate a “kind of life” before discovering the reason for celebration.
Clifton’s speaker is suspended “between starshine and clay.” It’s an echo of Keats’s line “Betwixt damnation and impassion’d clay” in “On Sitting Down to Read King Lear Once Again.”
Riffing requires that one be well-read, have a good memory and sense the timeless connections between ideas! Thank you, Lucille Clifton.