Student: What are you doing on Sunday?
Me: Sunday? Church. Laundry.
Student: Want to go to Powell's and then hear Lucille Clifton?
Me: For real? Totally for real?
Student: Yeah. Some us from my minority lit class are going and Dr. --- has an extra ticket. I asked if I could give it to you.
Me: Rock on.
As an added bonus I got to give my student (photographed here) a tour of Powell's since she hadn't ever really been there. She's a newly minted English major, so of course it was quite a privilege to take her to the book mecca of Oregon. (Sidenote: on our drive to Portland, my student said she was interested in looking at home interior books "if they have any." I chuckled. "Yep, they'll have a few.")
That's what I got to do Sunday afternoon and evening. Wander around Powell's, (where I discovered there's a NEW Mo Willems book, The Pigeon Wants a Puppy. I was crazy with delight!), eat dinner at Old Town Pizza, and listen to Lucille Clifton read poetry.
It was simply amazing.
My confession is that I don't really like to read poetry that much, but oh how I do love to hear it. Ms. Clifton's voice is rich and resonant. She didn't have much of a plan on what poems she was going to read, so she just wandered her way through a couple of her books and loose sheets of paper. She introduced each poem with a story, and naturally she spoke a great deal about race. Certainly I couldn't relate to a lot of the difficulties that she has experienced, but hearing how the world has sometimes unkindly treated her--she a celebrated and honored poet--made me even more determined to teach my children the truth of Ms. Clifton's words: "I want everyone to be noticed."
I loved hearing her talk about her granddaughters, her experiences, and her opinions on education, religion, and politics. I laughed at her story about meeting President Clinton ("What an insult! He didn't once try to seduce me!"). I nodded at her descriptions of motherhood. My eyes filled with tears twice: when she read "lumpectomy eve" (about one breast comforting another before breast cancer surgery) and when she told about her mother burning all of her own (that is, her mother's) poetry because Lucille's father said, "No wife is mine is going to be a poet." Even now, the remembrance of Ms. Clifton talking about those things makes me emotional.
We almost got through the night without her reading "homage to my hips"--and I was growing increasingly worried that I wouldn't hear her read it--but during the question and answer time someone asked her, "Tell us about your hips, Lucille!"
And so she did.
Almost as soon as the last word was out of her mouth, the audience erupted with cheering. Because, honestly, the night wouldn't have been complete without it. I found an audio recording online of Ms. Clifton reading that poem that I was going to link here, but it's her younger voice, and as great as it is it's just not as powerful as the voice she has now at 71 years old.
She also got a question about the writing process, which I was keenly interested in hearing. How does she write poems? "It's a mystery," she said. "Poems know that I will say 'yes' to them, and so they come. They fill my whole body." Isn't that lovely? So perfect.
Oh! even before Lucille Clifton spoke, the night was already a treasure: Portland's own Ursula K. Le Guin gave the introduction. When the Literary Arts director announced who was giving Lucille Clifton's introduction, you could hear an audible gasp and squeal from the audience because, well, Ursula! Ursula K. Le Guin! Do you remember me cheering about her last summer? Or that I have her book Steering the Craft linked on my sidebar? It was already a treat that I was going to hear Lucille Clifton, but then to hear that I was going to hear Le Guin--even if just for a couple minutes--I could not believe it.
Suddenly, I had this image of classic video footage of girls screaming and fainting at Elvis concerts because I totally could relate to that. I had tears in my eyes and my heart was pounding and I actually uttered the words, "Ohmigosh ohmigosh. Ursula Le Guin and Lucille Clifton," and then I was speechless. I was in the presence of Literary Rockstars.
I totally wish I could have had them autograph my left boob. Ah, just kidding.
Clifton and Le Guin autographs on my jeans would have been way cooler. I could have worn them to class tomorrow.