Reading “water sign woman” and “i am not done yet” by Lucille Clifton
Poetry Lunch S1E12
Reading “water sign woman” and “i am not done yet” by Lucille Clifton from The Collected Poems of Lucille Clifton 1965-2010, published by BOA Editions Ltd.
Poetry Lunch S1E12! This episode concludes Season 1 of our weekly poetry reading series, started spontaneously this spring. Season 2 will start up in fall.
I love these two poems and so, so, so many more by Lucille Clifton. Another serendipity I forgot to mention is where I first got this book—I actually borrowed it for a good year at least from my friend Anna who is a poet alongside her many visual art pursuits. Borrowing books can be a slippery slope and I’m grateful to Anna for trusting me, and also letting me know when it was time to get my own copy.
Which I did, direct from BOA, at AWP (a writers conference) some years ago. I want to say a big thanks to all the publishers, big and small but especially the independent ones, whose work to put out poetry books makes my work possible. In turn I strive to make my work useful back to them, always hoping a line one my of my prints may catch many an unsuspecting passerby, and lead them eventually back to the book I got it from.
Because, books! They hold us close and never judge and hold whole worlds in slim volumes for us to pick up anytime and find a thing we need. And wow is poetry needed. Always in the most unsuspecting of moments, too.
I was recently asked to write a “value proposition” for my business, what do you do that others don’t… after many stumped half-sentences, I came up with “our prints give people words for when there are no words.” I like to think my work is a conduit from author to reader in moments of need.
I know those moments go largely unseen. If you’re in one, I wish you a poem to hold, that can help hold you through it.
I mentioned that with the design of this print, I was thinking of a window and a person pressed up against it. That image came from a story my friend Tree told me about seeing Lucille read once, and how she talked about the idea of pressing oneself right up against the edge—
As I write this I realize I have no idea actually what my friend said, let alone what she heard Lucille Clifton say. But I have a strong imprint from the conversation that holds the image of a larger-than-life woman, at home in herself, pressed up against an opening and making herself available to see and be seen.
Perhaps that image is all my own. It's what I was thinking about when I arranged the type on this page.
Special thanks to Peter Conners of BOA Editions who first sent me this poem, which knocked me off my feet literally.
This print was made first as a gift for artist Anne Hirondelle, who titled one of her shows after this poem. I happened to visit her studio thanks to a connect via mutual friend when she was preparing that show, and saw a print out of the poem, which I hadn't read before.
When we walked away from Anne's beautiful sunlit studio through her gorgeous garden, I said to my friend, that poem would work perfectly as a small print. We should make it for her. So I did; and through the permissions process of course I encountered "water sign woman" and much more good work came about.
The line "i continue to continue" has become a sort of mantra for me. I made this print just a month before the pandemic hit full force and that visit to Anne's studio was one of my last spontaneous new social situations for a good long time. Over time, the words feel indelible. Already existing. Always continuing. Like any good work I guess they live on their own without us, offering good presence when we encounter them but not needing us when we forget them. And always there again.
Now here's a tiny print (3x4 inches) that I set in about 5 minutes very late one night when preparing for an event I was tabling at, the Tacoma Wayzgoose. They have a very cool tradition of waiving table fees if you bring an activity for the public and me being be, I went all out and used a third of my table space to set up a small press for people to pull prints as they walked by. It was a lot of extra things to think about and pack and as I was getting things wrapped up (and SO tired) I realized fuck! What is the thing they are going to print?
I hadn't set a form or thought of what it should say. And even in this situation, I just can't not think about the words. I am uninterested in printing just for printing's sake (though of course, I love printing!). If I am going to print something, it's got to be actually useful. So I panicked a bit and then remembered a conversation I'd had with my apprentice Sabina, about the difficulty of getting to good words in the limited timeframe of a workshop scenario. I had been offering "personal propaganda" workshops where you come print your own few words that you want to distribute, and I tried to make a rule that you had to arrive with your phrase already set. Your words already known.
However I found that the words—no surprise—were the hardest thing, and the thing people wanted most helpful. So most of my workshops were spent 75% talking and thinking and feeling about words and then a sudden decision forced and very quick setup and printing. The hardest was when people came with no idea at all — or too many ideas. How to manufacture something deeply considered and useful in a few hours? Well, mostly you can't. But I found a way in, a tool that helps surface things already deeply felt. Free writes. I use them all the time in my life and have for a really long time. I don't know how else to begin writing. I also write morning pages which are basically an extended 45min free write every day.
At any rate I was always giving a long ramble to folks ahead of making them do a pre-write, trying to help focus them, and as I was talking all that through with Sabina she summed up my prompting in this beautiful simple question: "what do you forget to remember?"
Which I remembered that late night, and quickly set it, and people printed it all day at the event and when I got back to the shop I liked it so much I printed a bunch more. I now use them for free write prompts whenever teach (which hasn't been too much of late, of course, but I wonder. When will I teach again?)
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