Photo of Bill Moyers Bill Moyers Journal
Bill Moyers Journal
Bill Moyers Journal
Watch & Listen The Blog Archive Transcripts Buy DVDs

February 26, 2010

BILL MOYERS: The long arc of morality that bends toward justice leads not only through the courthouse and the statehouse but out on the streets and in the pages of poetry and prose. Luckily for the rest of us, there are writers who in words both beautiful and bold can express rage at injustice. But they don't stop there, they help us experience sorrow and joy through an intimate knowledge of our tempestuous human nature. We lost one of those gifted people the other day- one of our most popular poets, my friend, Lucille Clifton.

LUCILLE CLIFTON: Her eyes are animals. Each hank of her hair is a serpents obedient wife.
She will never recover, remember
There is nothing you will not bare
For this woman's sake.

BILL MOYERS: She was a standout in several programs we produced over the years on the wonders of poetry.

LUCILLE CLIFTON: I was not trained as a poet. I've never taken poetry lessons. I've never had workshops. Nobody taught me anything, really much. But I think that were beginning to remember that the first poets didn't come out of a classroom, that poetry began when somebody walked off of a savanna or out of a cave and looked up at the sky with wonder and said, "Ahhh." That was the first poem.

BILL MOYERS: She learned to love language as a child listening to poems written by her mother, a woman who never finished grade school. Inheriting that love of language and the spirit of her mom, Lucille Clifton wrote poetry of her own for twenty years before she was actually published. But with her first collections of poems, she quickly gained recognition that just kept growing over time. Over her long and prolific career she published more than 30 books that probed the indignations of slavery, celebrated the day-to-day events of life and community, and chronicling with frank and poignant sensuality the frailties and pleasures of the human body…

LUCILLE CLIFTON: these hips are big hips
they need space to
move around in.
they don't fit into little
petty places. these hips
are free hips.
they don't like to be held back.
these hips have never been enslaved,
they go where they want to go
they do what they want to do.
these hips are mighty hips.
these hips are magic hips.
i have known them
to put a spell on a man and
spin him like a top!

BILL MOYERS: Lucille Clifton was a two-time finalist for the Pulitzer Prize - in the same year, 1988 - something that had never happened before. In 2000, she received the National Book Award for "Blessing the Boat: New and Selected Poems," and then in 2007, became the first African American woman to receive the Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize - one of American poetry's most prestigious poetry honors.

LUCILLE CLIFTON: a woman precedes me up the long rope.
her dangling braids the color of rain.
maybe I should have had braids.
maybe I should have kept the body I started,
slim and possible as a boy's bone.
maybe I should have wanted less.
maybe I should have ignored the bowl in me
burning to be filled.
maybe I should have wanted less.
the woman passes the notch in the rope
marked Sixty. I rise toward it, struggling,
hand over hungry hand.

BILL MOYERS: Lucille Clifton was 73.

And that's it for this edition of the JOURNAL. There's more of Lucille Clifton on our website at And my conversation with David Boies and Ted Olson continues there, too. I'm Bill Moyers, and I'll see you next time.
Moyers Podcasts -- Sign Up for podcasts and feeds.
Our posts and your comments
For Educators    About the Series    Bill Moyers on PBS   

© Public Affairs Television 2008    Privacy Policy    DVD/VHS    Terms of Use    FAQ