Edna St. Vincent Millay (1892 - 1950) has always been an inspiration for me, this is why I was thrilled to learn that my favourite modern poet Lucille Clifton (1936 – 2010) was inspired by Millay also. In an interview I watched for Clifton on Youtube, she replies to the question “Which poet inspires your work?” Clifton laughs and says: “when I was young I read Millay a lot, you know, that kind of romantic but tacky poetry!” She and the audience both laugh.
I must admit I was a bit disappointed when Clifton called Millay’s poetry tacky, but then again the two poets have led very different lives; Millay who describes her life as “very very poor and very very merry” was an ardent feminist, she practiced her bisexuality openly and had engaged in numerous love affairs even when married to her husband Eugen Jan Boissevain - as their marriage was an open one - she won the pulitzer price in 1923. While Clifton who had worked in social services and wrote a lot of poems about children sexually abused by their parents, admits openly in one of her public readings about how the husband she has been faithful all her life was not faithful to her. Clifton admits in her poem “Donor” how she tried to miscarry her son:
When they tell me my body might reject
I think of thirty years ago
And the hangers I shoved inside
hard trying to not have you
I think of the pills, the everything
I gathered against your
Inconvenient bulge; and you
My stubborn baby child,
Hunched there in the dark
Refusing my refusal...
The two incredibly talented and incredibly strong women obviously have very different perceptions on love and romance, but they will both continue to inspire me and my poetry, but enough about me, here’s Millay’s very timely poem Spring:
To what purpose, April, do you return again?
Beauty is not enough.
You can no longer quiet me with the redness
Of little leaves opening stickily.
I know what I know.
The sun is hot on my neck as I observe
The spikes of the crocus.
The smell of the earth is good.
It is apparent that there is no death.
But what does that signify?
Not only under ground are the brains of men
Eaten by maggots.
Life in itself
An empty cup, a flight of uncarpeted stairs.
It is not enough that yearly, down this hill,
April comes like an idiot, babbling and strewing flowers.