‘good times’ was first published in 1969 and is a wonderful example of Clifton’s work. The poem’s form, language, and syntax are simple. She does not make use of consistent capitalization or use any punctuation at all. Through these techniques, she keeps the focus on the “good times” that she’s really interested in rather than on the formal structure of the poem itself. These choices also help to emphasize the fact that her narrator is a child–someone who should be too young to know the pressure of paying bills and have to worry about what they’re going to have for dinner.
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Summary of good times
Throughout this poem, the young speaker goes through all the things that are happening around her that are “good”. By emphasizing these “good” things she is revealing to the reader that more often than not times are not good. She doesn’t always have electricity and good food. Her family is sometimes without money and sometimes in debt. But now, for the brief lines of this poem, everything is lighter. Her uncle won some money gambling, her father paid the bills, and her mother is cooking. The family celebrates with drinks, dancing, and singing.
You can read the full poem here.
Themes in good times
Lucille Clifton engages with the important themes of happiness and poverty in this poem. Her young speaker is experiencing true happiness when the strains of poverty are lifted slightly, if only for an evening. On a normal day, she would expect to deal with her family’s stress, people at the door looking for money, and a lack of good food to eat. But, in this particular poem, things are lighter. She has food, electricity, and hope, more than anything else, she has her family and their joyous dispositions. Although these “good times” won’t last forever, she is able to take joy from them when they come around.
Structure and Form
‘good times’ by Lucille Clifton is an eighteen line poem that is contained within one stanza of text. The lines are written in free verse meaning that they do not make use of a specific rhyme scheme or metrical pattern. Clifton often wrote this way, as most contemporary poets do but the choice is even more important for this particular poem because the poem comes from the perspective of a child. A child’s words are simpler and a poem they composed would not have a complex meter or rhyme schemes.
Despite the fact that this poem is written in free verse, there are several literary devices present in the text. Clifton makes use of examples of anaphora, a refrain, and enjambment. The latter is a formal device that appears when one line is cut off before its natural stopping point. For example, the transition between lines one and two as well as between lines nine and ten.
Anaphora is seen when a poet uses the same word or words at the beginning of multiple lines of text. For example, “and” which begins lines two, three, and four as well as lines ten through thirteen. Repetition also appears when Clifton uses a refrain. In the case of ‘good times,’ it is the repetition of those very words, “good times”.
Analysis of good times
My Daddy has paid the rent
and the insurance man is gone
In the first lines of the poem, the speaker brings the reader into her world. She a young child who is in the midst of “good times”. These good times have come about because of a few very simple things. The “insurance man” who was at her house trying to get his money is gone and the “rent” is paid. Plus, she adds, the lights are back on in her homes. These things, which many would take for granted, culminate to create a remarkably pleasant time in her life. This clearly reveals to the reader that there are many times in the speaker’s life when she doesn’t have all these things.
Things get even better when her uncle “Brud” plays cards and wins a bit of money. It is here that she moves into the refrain, reminding the reader is a song-like manner that times are “good”.
My Mama has made bread
and Grampaw has come
In the next lines, the speaker goes into more detail about her life and what makes this moment so “good”. These moments are filled with fresh bread, family, and celebration in the form of singing and dancing. Readers should take note of the use of anaphora in these lines. It helps to create a feeling of accumulation as one line builds upon the next. The speaker’s excitement over these little, wonderful things in her life grows until she focuses in on the “dancing in the kitchen”. Lines thirteen and fourteen present the reader with an example of parallelism as the structure of the lines is repeated.
The poem concludes with a further repetition of the words “good times” and then an example of an apostrophe as the speaker addresses “children”.
These optimistic and deeply relevant poem is only one of many that touch of similar themes of poverty, dreams, family, and hope. Readers should also take the time to look into ‘kitchenette building’ and ‘The Bean Eaters’ by Gwendolyn Brooks and ‘Harlem’ or ‘A Dream Deferred’ by Langston Hughes. All of these poems touch on the reality of life for poor, Black men and women in America. They present uncomfortable truths about America’s past and unfortunately its present.