Lyrae Van Clief-Stefanon

December 3, 2010

If you like Lucille Clifton, you will really enjoy,  “Black Swan” by Lyrae Van Clief-Stefanon.  I stumbled upon this book in the UMW bookstore last Spring.  Lyrae Van Clief-Stefanon, a Virginia resident, is the recipient of an Academy of American Poets Prize and was a semi-finalist for the “Discovery”/The Nation Award in 1999 and 2001.  Her poetry collection entitled “Black Swan” was the winner of the Cave Canem Prize.

            Lyrae Van Clief-Stefanon delivers, in “Black Swan,” compact lines fraught with enjambment, and more enjambment in its internal line breaks.  The poems in this collection incorporate biblical and mythological references interspersed with the African-American experience and vernacular language to deliver a piercing, often heart-rending portrait of the female experience.  From the very beginning of the opening lines of the first poem, Van Clief-Stefanon’s, signature, compact lines and understated punctuation draw the reader in:

Imagine Leda black –

Skinny legs        peach-switch

Scarred         vaselined to gleaming

Like magnolia leaves          Imagine

A teenager         hips asway like moss

Switchin’ down a dirt road


This collection of lyrical narrative is a truly irresistible, must-read that cuts straight to the heart.  I find myself coming back to it again and again.  I could not find any readings from “Black Swan” but here is a video of her reading at the Virginia Festival of the Book, March, 2010, from her book entitled “Open Intervals.”

Lyrae Van Clief-Stefanon at the VA Festival of the Book v=zDjOw_CNuf4

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