On Thursday, March 1, St. Mary’s College of Maryland (SMCM) hosted a special VOICES reading sponsored by the Office of the President entitled “Nurturing a Compassionate Community: An Evening to Honor the Legacy of Lucille Clifton.”
Poet Elizabeth Alexander, famous for her presentation of “Praise Song for the Day” at President Obama’s 2009 inauguration, came to present the Lucille Clifton Legacy Award to one of her former pupils, Aracelis Girmay.
At the reading, Assistant Professor of Psychology Angela Draheim was honored with the President’s Lucille Clifton award to recognize her “contributions to creating a campus climate of understanding and compassion.” According to Dr. Jordan, students nominated Draheim because of her “uplifting spirit” and “working behind the scenes to ensure others thrive.”
The evening also featured several performances from Brian Gantz, including a song by Clifton’s favorite composer. In attendance for the tender moment were two of Clifton’s daughters, Alexia and Gillian.
The event opened with introductions from Professor of English and Director of the VOICES reading series, Karen Anderson, who asked the audience to consider “how do you keep compassion, community, and justice alive, not just for a night, but through adversity, and over time?”
Anderson invited Michael Glaser to the stage, who spoke fondly of his memories with Clifton before inviting one of Clifton’s former pupils to speak.
President Jordan followed him and spoke of her admiration for Clifton, despite the fact that they had never met. She recalled times of calling on Clifton’s spirit to guide her in leading the college, even calling her her “soulmate.” She then presented Draheim and Girmay their awards, as well as honoring Alexander for selecting the recipient of the Legacy award.
The evening moved forward with musical interludes from Gantz before returning focus back to the poets. Girmay introduced Alexander to the audience, saying, “She is a person who I admire greatly, for the seriousness and joyfulness with which she approaches the world…She reminds her readers how important it is to engage with our full, embodied lives: with what comes, what is coming, and what has left us.”
Alexander read a progression of poetry, starting with Clifton’s work, performing poems such as “won’t you celebrate with me” and “testament.” She then moved through a poem of her own words intertwined with Clifton’s, both pieces dealing with their widowhood. Alexander performed some original poems, including “First Word of the Mass for the Dead” and “Rally, 2008.”
Alexander then introduced Girmay, saying, “like Lucille Clifton, Aracelis Girmay channels all souls through her soul, and crafts them into carefully made music– her music, of course, is her poems.”
Girmay followed Alexander’s lead, first reading Clifton’s “oh antic god” before moving into her own pieces, including “For Estefani Lora, Third Grade, Who Made me a Card,” “Second Estrangement,” and “Ars Poetica.”
The night concluded with Glaser prompting the audience to hold hands as a recording of Clifton reading “blessing of the boats” was played. He noted that she once asked students to hold hands at the beginning of class, offering only the explanation that “ holding hands is better than not holding hands.”
The next VOICES reading, a “Writer’s Harvest,” will take place at 8:15 pm on March 8 at Daugherty-Palmer Commons. The event is free and open to the public.