Before the world of the Instagram self-help poets we all love, Lucille Clifton was writing about healing and self-love with chilling clarity and conviction.
Clifton, born Thelma Lucille Sayles, was an American poet, writer, and educator who was the Poet Laureate of Maryland from 1979 to 1985. Her books, Good Woman: Poems and a Memoir, 1969-1980 (1987) and Next: New Poems (1987), were both finalists for the prestigious Pulitzer Prize award.
Clifton’s work emphasized endurance and strength through adversity, with a special focus on African-American experience and life. One judge of the Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize, awarding the prestigious prize to Clifton in 2007 remarked, “One always feels the looming humaneness around Lucille Clifton’s poems—it is a moral quality that some poets have and some don’t.”
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In her poem, ‘won’t you celebrate with me’, Clifton walks us through life as both Black and woman in America, which she refers to as Babylon, a metaphor for a great city which though wealthy, is rampant with evil. Clifton writes that she survived, by being herself, loving herself – ‘one hand holding another’, despite the trials and tribulations that have came her way.
Read the poem below, ‘won’t you celebrate with me’ below and leave your thoughts in the comments.
won’t you celebrate with me
what i have shaped into
a kind of life? i had no model.
born in babylon
both nonwhite and woman
what did i see to be except myself?
i made it up
here on this bridge between
starshine and clay,
my one hand holding tight
my other hand; come celebrate
with me that everyday
something has tried to kill me
and has failed.