CELEBRATING AMERICAN SHE-POETS (8): Lucille Clifton, homage to my hips

Lucille Clifton (1936-2010)
Lucille Clifton (1936-2010)

” . . . writing is a way of continuing to hope … perhaps for me it is a way of remembering I am not alone.” Lucille Clifton in an interview with Michael S. Glaser

I am one of those – like the people of Buffalo – who think of Lucille Clifton as a New Yorker. She was born in Depew and grew-up and was educated in Buffalo. I suppose some Californian’s claim her as theirs because she lived in Santa Cruz for a while. Most of the world, however, sees her as belonging to Maryland. I don’t know that she lived there longest but she was that state’s Poet Laureate from 1979 – 1985.

Lucille and Fred James Clifton (professor and sculptor)  were friends with writer, playwright and publisher Ishmael Reed. It was he who introduced them to one another when he organized the Buffalo Community Drama Workshop. They acted together in a version of The Glass Managerie.  Reed took some of Lucille’s poems to Langston Hughes who included them in The Poetry of the Negro, 1746-1970.

Lucille Clifton won many grants and awards including the Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize, the Shelley Memorial Award, and Lannan Literary Award for Poetry. Two of her books were finalists for the Pulitzer Prize. In addition to poetry collections, she wrote a memoir and twenty-some children’s books. The latter include the popular well-regarded Everett Anderson series.

“Lucille Clifton is an African-American whose consciousness of her race and gender informs all of her poetry, though she never gets preachy. Instead, she has chosen a minimalist mode that clears out human society’s clutter, the mess we’ve made by identifying ourselves in contending genders, ethnicities, nations. Lightly, as if biting her tongue, with a wise smile, she shows us a radically egalitarian world where no one or no capitalized word lords it over others. …” Peggy Rosenthal, The Christian Century

Denise Levertov wrote of Lucille Clifton’s work as “authentic and profound.” I find it marked by pragmatism, strength, endurance and humor. You will see the later demonstrated in this poem and her intro to it, her ode: 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

– Lucille Clifton

© Lucille Clifton, “homage to my hips” from her collection Good Woman: Poems and a Memoir 1969-1980 (BOA Editions Ltd., 1987) – definitely recommended

© introduction, Jamie Dedes; Lucille Clifton’s portrait is from her Amazon Page.