This week’s show, “Black and Universal” with poet E. Ethelbert Miller, features a rich smattering of readings — from The Autobiography of Malcolm X to the poetry of Lucille Clifton, and some poems by Miller himself.

We spent a lot of time deliberating about these selections: which ones to include, how long they should be, who should voice them (Krista? Our managing producer Kate? An outside reader?).

Lucille Clifton’s “won’t you celebrate with me” is one of the poems that made the final cut. The poem is short, easy for a listener to grasp, and flows nicely out of Miller’s musings about blackness, beauty, and Michelle Obama. Here’s the clincher that sealed the deal: audio of Clifton reading the poem in her own voice. The power of her delivery took those words on the page to a whole new level.

We also considered Elizabeth Alexander’s poem “John Col” for this same slot in the show. Alexander explores the wrought beauty of John Coltrane’s music — music that has influenced Miller personally and poetically. Kate was particularly enamored with this poem, and it’s one of my all-time favorites. I especially like these lines and how they read like Coltrane’s music sounds:

a terrible beau-
ty a terrible
beauty a terrible
beauty a horn


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3Reflections

Reflections

I am heart broken that after listening to this show on 2/13 to find that Lucille Clifton has passed away. She was open and approachable. She mentored and critiqued my poetry without knowing me or having any knowledge of me.
She was a strong iron rod/support for a young teen Black woman to hear celebrating our hair, our shape...She is beautiful and greatly missed by me. What a range of heart and spirit she wrote.

I am grieving the beautiful spirit of Lucille Clifton, an open woman who took the time to mentor and critique the work of a young poet, she didn't know. I first heard her at my high school in Maryland, where she shared her poems. Her poems that celebrated a Black woman's beauty were food for a young person who's race wasn't seen as beautiful in the mass culture that I was and still am a part of.

I will always love her for her poem "Hips." What a strong role model for women everywhere.

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