An Appreciation of Lucille Clifton

Praise for the poet of deceptive simplicity.

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Clifton’s first volume of poetry emerged just at the beginning of the Black Arts movement, as dozens of books of new poetry anthologies were being published, praising and publicizing the new black voices rising in aesthetic opposition to traditional forms of poetry. Clifton’s work didn’t make it into Clarence Major’s 1969 The New Black Poetry or Stephen Henderson’s 1972 Understanding the New Black Poetry, but a handful of poems, including “Admonition” and “Good times,” appear in Dudley Randall’s influential The Black Poets (1971). Arnold Adoff’s 1973 anthology The Poetry of Black America features the heartbreaking “Miss Rosie,” which ends:

i say

when i watch you

you wet brown bag of a woman

who used to be the best looking gal in Georgia

used to be called the Georgia Rose

i stand up

through your destruction

i stand up

the time i dropped your almost body down

down to meet the waters under the city

and run one with the sewage to the sea

what did i know about waters rushing back

what did i know about drowning

or being drowned

“the lost baby poem” features uncharacteristically (for Clifton) long, iambic pentameter lines; it is a substantial poem, with heft and a deadly serious subject matter. The uncapitalized ‘i’s’ account for the poem’s alternatingly plaintive and insistent tone.

By 1980, Clifton’s place in the canon of American poets was fully established; her reputation among female fans was strengthened by the savvy Woman Power poem, “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!