Sunday Poetry: Homage to My Hips, by Lucille Clifton

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

– by Lucille Clifton

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If women’s poetry is supposed to be quiet and reflective, if large women are supposed to envy their slimmer sisters, if sexuality is supposed to be hushed and reverent – well, Lucille Clifton did not get the memo.

The most obvious element of this poem is its boastful humor. (Note: I initially used the word “cocky” in the place of “boastful”, but the gender issues of my word choice were too distracting.) It clearly is a fun poem, and when you watch Lucille Clifton read the poem, you can see she means it to be fun. Likewise, when you listen to her read it to an appreciative audience, she obviously plays it like a skit.

I won’t murder humor by dissecting it, but I will point out that there is some real artistry involved in this poem. The rhythm is a roughed-up iambic beat, and the line breaks help bring out the meaning. Consider the line “they don’t fit into”. What does your mind fill in when you reach the end of that line? Size 2 jeans? Lacy underwear? Airline seats? Instead, Clifton sweeps all your answers into the dismissive “petty places” and moves forward.

Clifton has been compared to a less verbose Walt Whitman for her free celebration of herself, and I think the comparison is a good one. Her lines are trim and short, while his go on and on, but the joyful spirit bounds through both. Both write in everyday, proudly non-academic language of people on the street. Clifton even brings in a whiff of the Mamas and the Papas’ Go Where You Wanna Go with her “they go where they want to go/ they do what they want to do.” If you want to have some fun at the expense of academia, spend some time with Google and find a few stuffy, pedantic essays by grad students trying to explain in thousands of polysyllabic words what Clifton does in under 80 one and two syllable words.

(Buy Lucille Clifton’s poetry at your favorite independent bookseller. It is approachable and completely appropriate for someone who will appreciate some poetic joy in their life.)

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