Feminist poetry – A review of Lucille Clifton’s “Homage To My Hips”

Photo Courtesy Of mosaicmagazine.org | Lucille Clifton’s work centers around the urban African American experience.

Marissa Hank ’20
Arts Editor

Lucille Clifton was born Thelma Lucille Sayles on June 27, 1936 in Depew, New York to Samuel L. Sayles Sr. and Thelma Moore Sayles. Clifton’s father worked in the steel mills outside of Buffalo and her mother worked in a laundry. Her father would tell her stories about her ancestors that she later celebrated in “Generations,” a memoir notable for capturing the spirit of the five generations of Sayles. In her mother Thelma’s  spare time, she would write poetry. This was Thelma’s way to express the emotions she had regarding her epilepsy. Since Thelma read these poems aloud to her children, Lucille learned to express her emotions through poetry from a young age.

Lucille Clifton’s work illuminates the experience of urban African Americans. Clifton’s poems incorporate themes on issues of racism, self-discovery, womanhood, family and African heritage. With short yet passion-filled phrases, she reaffirms and humanizes, in everyday language, the inhabitants of the inner city—a part of the population that is often ignored, feared or underrated. For example, in her first book “Good Times,” she was inspired by her family of six young children and centers on the realities of African American urban life. 

Throughout the majority of her work, Clifton’s style is known for her lack of capitalization, short sentences and simple diction. Clifton is notable for her ability to “say much with few words.” Since Clifton writes only what is essential, even the spaces within her poems contain substance, shaping the work just as much as her word choice. Lucille Clifton’s poetry also reflects optimism, and the belief that people have the ability to improve society. Another quality of her style includes the ability to use simple language yet convey complex ideas. This is evident in her poem, “Homage to my Hips,” where Clifton employs this sparse style to allow the reader to understand that a woman’s body exists as she controls, not how society views it.

“Homage to my Hips”

these hips are big hips

they need space to

move around in.

they don’t fit into little

petty places. these hips

are free hips.

they don’t like to be held back.

these hips have never been enslaved,   

they go where they want to go

they do what they want to do.

these hips are mighty hips.

these hips are magic hips.

i have known them

to put a spell on a man and

spin him like a top!

In this poem, Lucille Clifton celebrates a part of her body that society has traditionally demeaned. Clifton provides a powerful yet spirited expression of black womanhood. She releases herself from the dominance of popular ideals of beauty and from masculine concepts of femininity. Even though this poem is fairly short, Clifton manages to empower women through her confident, powerful tone. With phrases such as “mighty hips,” “magic hips” and “put a spell on a man,” Clifton directly informs the reader of the speaker’s strength and power of manipulation. Through descriptions of how these hips move in the world with power, magic and even seduction,  Clifton indicates that she is not interested in how the hips look, but in how they act. The character Clifton creates through this poem is a woman of action; a woman who moves freely through the world, just as free as her hips.

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