9 Poems by Lucille Clifton, Chronicler of the Black American Experience

Lucille Clifton

Lucille Clifton (1936 – 2010) was a poet, teacher, and children’s book author whose life and career began in western New York.  Here is a selection of 10 poems by Lucille Clifton, a small sampling of her prolific output.

Clifton’s widely respected poetry focuses on social issues, the Black American experience, and the female identity. Her poetry has been praised for its wise use of strong imagery, and lines that have even given the spacing of words meaning.

Her poetry is recognizable for its purposeful lack of punctuation and capitalization.

Poet Elizabeth Alexander praises Clifton’s use of strong language in her poetry, which was often spare and brief. Robin Becker of The American Poetry Review states that Clifton emphasizes the human element and morality of her poetry that’s amplified by the use of improper grammar.

Clifton was devoted to expressing the painful history of African Americans. Yet she also expressed ideas of beauty and courage, addressing themes of women’s issues, everyday family struggles, and health. Read more about Lucille Clifton and her poetry at Poetry Foundation.

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Lucille Clifton quote

Learn more about Lucille Clifton
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The first stanza or two of the following poems are included in this listing. You’ll find a link to the poem in full, along with a link to an analysis where available.

  • homage to my hips
  • the lost baby poem
  • 1994
  • adam thinking
  • eve thinking
  • my dream about being white 
  • sorrow song
  • wishes for sons
  • the garden of delights
  • blessing the boats
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homage to my hips (1987)

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 …

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Lucille Clifton quote

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the lost baby poem (1987)

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 …

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1994 (1996)

i was leaving my fifty-eighth year
when a thumb of ice
stamped itself hard near my heart

you have your own story
you know about the fears the tears
the scar of disbelief …

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adam thinking

she
stolen from my bone
is it any wonder
i hunger to tunnel back
inside desperate
to reconnect the rib and clay …

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eve thinking

it is wild country here
brothers and sisters coupling
claw and wing
groping one another  …

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my dream about being white (1987)

hey music and
me
only white,
hair a flutter of
fall leaves
circling my perfect
line of a nose,
no lips …

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sorrow song (1987)

for the eyes of the children,
the last to melt,
the last to vaporize,
for the lingering
eyes of the children, staring,
the eyes of the children of
buchenwald …

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wishes for sons (1987)

i wish them cramps.
i wish them a strange town
and the last tampon.
i wish them no 7-11.
 
i wish them one week early
and wearing a white skirt.
i wish them one week late …

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the garden of delight (1991)

for some
it is stone
bare smooth
as a buttock
rounding
into the crevasse
of the world …

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Lucille Clifton books. . . . . . . . . .

Lucille Clifton’s poetry collections

  • Good Times (1969)
  • Good News About the Earth (1972)
  • An Ordinary Woman (1974)
  • Two-Headed Woman (1980)
  • Good Woman: Poems and a Memoir: 1969–1980 (1987)
  • Next: New Poems (1987)
  • Quilting: Poems 1987–1990 (1991)
  • The Book of Light (1993)
  • The Terrible Stories  (1996)
  • Blessing The Boats: New and Collected Poems 1988–2000  (2000)
  • Mercy  (2004)
  • Voices (2008)
  • The Collected Poems of Lucille Clifton (2012)

8 Responses to “9 Poems by Lucille Clifton, Chronicler of the Black American Experience”

  1. a wonderful site! so far it’s my only reasonable way to find out about black women writers; you do excellent coverage.

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