I remember the first time I read Lucille Clifton’s “Blessing the Boats.” It found me during a summer day that was incredibly trying. Her words felt like a reprieve, an actual blessing and prayer, just like the title states. The lines “may the tide / that is entering even now… carry you out / beyond the face of fear… and may you in your innocence / sail through this to that” provide inspiration to keep going as the year inches away from its newness. Whether it be revisiting my favorite literary voices or acquainting myself with new ones I find myself forgetting that writing begins with story. For that reason, I thought it would be the perfect time to visit the works of some iconic writers in poetry. As February and March converge, so do Black History month and Women’s History month, which lead me to return to two of my favorite writers, Lucille Clifton and June Jordan.
Perhaps one of the greatest truths Clifton wrote for writers was “I don’t write out of what I know; I write out of what I wonder. I think most artists create art in order to explore, not to give the answers. Poetry and art are not about answers to me; they are about the questions.” While it’s great to write about what you know, it’s often the mysteries hiding among our words that provide the most. Her statement is proof that being an artist is a continuous inquiry. Going back to “Blessing the Boats” my immediate reaction when reading it is how her words are able to create a sensory reaction. The reader can feel the tranquility from the surroundings that are detailed. More than that though, one can see that as Clifton’s piece builds, a deeper meaning of solace is revealed. She’s able to anchor such depth through words that are visceral because of their placement.
Like Clifton, June Jordan’s poetry is palpable and reaches across to its reader prompting them to question. Jordan’s work is famous for speaking out against the injustices so many have experienced. A quote belonging to her that represents her message with such clarity is “Poetry is a political act because it involves telling the truth.” Its apparent that her beliefs and passions fueled her creativity. Jordan used her poetry as a vessel to promote change and express the dark and necessary truths that needed to be freed. One piece that feels like a departure from her usual style and subject matter is “These Poems”. She wrote “These poems / they are the things that I do / in the dark / reaching for you / whoever you are / and / are you ready?”. This introduction gives reader’s a glimpse into what poetry represents to her. It could be viewed as an open-ended question as Clifton expressed in her quote while simultaneously pushing the reader to ask what is a poem capable of when used to the best of its ability. Every time I read June Jordan’s work I am amazed at how she shares her voice with such honesty and beauty.
Clifton and Jordan’s style of work navigate the world in differing ways. Their perception of how poetry can provoke, honor, and move an audience are prime examples of using writing for beauty and social justice. These two poems are just a fraction of the mark they left on the literary world, but if you’re like me you’ll hopefully find their words to prompt passion and direct you in how to further utilize your writing. March and spring will meet and there will be plenty of inspiration to pull from, its already reached into the 100’s where I live, and my mind wanders to Clifton’s boats on the horizon ebbing against the flow of her words.
Important Dates to Remember
There are exciting things ahead, two important dates to keep in mind are: Issue 4 of The Field Guide Poetry Mag will be published on March 29th and submissions for the current contest close on March 15th.