Tributes planned for Maryland poet Clifton

February 17, 2010|By Nick Madigan | nick.madigan@baltsun.com

As admirers and friends of Lucille Clifton, a former poet laureate of Maryland, continued to mourn her passing, plans were completed Tuesday for a pair of memorial services in her honor - one for family and close friends, the other for the public.

The first gathering will be held at noon Thursday at the Wilde Lake Interfaith Center in Columbia, the town that Clifton, a native of upstate New York, had adopted as her home many years ago.

The public memorial is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. April 10 in Montgomery Hall on the campus of St. Mary's College of Maryland on the Western Shore of the Chesapeake Bay, where Clifton had been a member of the faculty from 1989 until she retired in 2007.

In addition, the Poetry Society of America, which was to have given Clifton its Centennial Frost Medal during a ceremony April 1 at the National Arts Club in New York City, plans to go ahead with the event, turning it into a series of tributes from fellow poets and friends.

Clifton, a National Book Award winner and twice a Pulitzer Prize finalist, died Saturday at age 73 at Johns Hopkins Hospital, a day after undergoing surgery to remove her colon. Gillian Clifton, one of the poet's daughters, said her mother had become ill with a blood infection.

During her long, highly productive career, Clifton became known as a distinctive writer who identified herself forcefully as a mother and a black woman. She published 11 poetry collections and 20 children's books. She received the National Book Award in poetry in 2000 for "Blessing the Boats: New and Selected Poems, 1988-2000."

Her other honors included an Emmy from the American Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, a Lannan Achievement Award in Poetry, two fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Shelley Memorial Award.

Larry Vote, the acting president of St. Mary's College of Maryland, said Clifton "brought to campus many poets of international renown, creating a legacy and special love of poetry that exists to this day."

Michael S. Glaser, one of Clifton's successors as Maryland's poet laureate from 2004 until last year and a former professor of English at St. Mary's, said that Clifton's poems "had a profound impact on many readers in many lands because she was a courageous truth-teller" and that her work was "graced with compassion, generosity and light."

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