To understand what I am going to tell you, you need to know that my parents were scientists and that my mother’s mind had a decidedly unpoetic bent. Nonetheless, they read me poems from the time I was very young because they paid attention to what gladdened my spirit.
On a recent afternoon, I skimmed from page to page in the newspaper, glancing at headlines about environmental deregulation, an increase in the state murder rate, schools that aren’t educating their students, massacres in Syria and other grim realities. My reaction? I’m embarrassed to confess: “Not my problem, not my problem, not my problem, and not my problem.” Then I turned to the sports section.
At a reception to launch a new collection of Lucille Clifton’s poems (The Collected Poems of Lucille Clifton 1965-2010), the editor of the volume, Kevin Young, described coming across a folder in Clifton’s archives at Emory University. The folder had been labeled “Unpublished Poems.” That label had been scratched out and replaced by something like, “Poems that really aren’t that good and should probably just be thrown away someday.” That label too had been scratched out and replaced with “Bad poems.”