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poem beginning in no and ending in yes

Octavio Paz wrote that a poem’s meaning is derived from its form, that every form “produces its own idea, its own vision of the world.” This is interesting, especially, when we consider poems that experiment with layout on the page. Take, for example, the late Lucille Clifton’s piece titled, “poem beginning in no and ending in yes,” originally published in ZYZZYVA’s 1989 summer issue. (Clifton was teaching at the University of California at Santa Cruz at the time.) In the poem, Clifton memorializes 13-year-old Hector Peterson (the first child killed in the Soweto riot of 1976). She doesn’t use punctuation or capitalization, but the reader does not feel disoriented or lost. The poem is framed too effectively (as the title suggests, beginning the poem with “no” and concluding with “yes”). The images and message are able to burn “into the most amazing science,” as Clifton puts it.

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