Hi from this side of 2021,
I know “celebrate” is an odd sentiment to start the year with, given how 2020 has been. I don’t have a lot to say about this year that hasn’t already been said, so indulge me in a bit of personal reflection. I started 2020, rudderless. I had spent the latter half of 2019 recovering from a burnout - an accumulation of years of my spending too much time and energy on places & people that were not for me. The burnout was my body’s way of telling me to stop. Spending years grinding myself to the ground meant that I had the privilege to be able make space for things I never had the courage to invite. There was poetry (so much poetry), Found Poems was born, and I found art, work and people that filled my soul.
I am telling you all this because 2020 sucked for me too – but staying closer to home, and being restricted in distractions meant there was no running away from sitting with myself and being grateful for just being able to survive.
Today I wanted to share a poem written by Lucille Clifton. Lucille was a New York poet, professor, children’s author and poet laureate for Maryland. She often wrote about the African-American experience.
Everything about the way Lucille writes can be summed up in these lines from her short poem ‘why some people be mad at me sometimes’: “they ask me to remember / but they want me to remember / their memories / and i keep on remembering / mine.” When I first came across her work I was struck by her absolute refusal to accept anyone else’s reality and rules as her own, stripping back excess language and grammar to leave a personal and poetic language all of her own.
won’t you celebrate with me
By Lucille Clifton
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.
We’re all making up the future as we go - perhaps more now that ever before. And we can choose to be terrified of it or we can choose to hold our own hand, and celebrate the fact that we’ve survived - acknowledging how lucky we are to have come this far when so much was stacked against us and so many didn’t make it. (If you want to hear a more in depth analysis of this poem by someone far more eloquent than me, do listen to poet Kevin Young’s short discussion on it here.)
Lucille once said that poetry was her way of continuing to hope, so I hope that you will love and read this poem as often as you need, to muster up the faith we are all going to need for 2021.
Happy New Year friends!