Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Lucille Clifton was one of the leading voices in the Civil Rights and feminist movements. In ‘homage to my hips’ her speaker takes on an empowering attitude towards her body, expressing love and appreciation for her “big hips” and their power. Over her lifetime, Clifton wrote thirteen books of poetry, and of all the poems they contain ‘homage to my hips’ is one of the most popular.
Explore homage to my hips
Throughout this short poem, Clifton’s speaker uses clear and direct lines to describe her “big hips”. They don’t fit in tiny places nor do they make her look like the women that society has deemed beautiful. All the same, they are powerful and they are hers. She carries herself with confidence and her hips demand nothing less. The poem concludes with the speaker describing how many a man has been set spinning by her body.
You can read the full poem here.
The themes that Clifton is interested in within ‘homage to my hips’ are quite clear. They include female empowerment, beauty, and confidence. Throughout the poem, the speaker displays the latter clearly and without hesitation. She is who she is and she thinks that’s wonderful. Her hips are big and she loves them for it. This attitude is incredibly empowering. Her self-confidence is infectious and should, when read in the right circumstances, make anyone feel happier about who they are and what they look like.
Structure and Form
‘homage to my hips’ by Lucille Clifton is a fifteen line poem that is contained within a single stanza of text. The lines do not follow a specific rhyme scheme or metrical pattern, a kind of wiring known as free verse. Although this poem does not contain consistent rhymes or structured rhythm, there are examples of both. Consider how the various literary devices used in ‘homage to my hips’ help to create a steady pattern for the reader to follow.
Clifton makes use of several literary devices in ‘homage to my hips’. These include but are not limited to anaphora, parallelism, and alliteration. The first, anaphora, is one of the techniques that help to establish a rhythm in this free verse poem. It is seen through the repetition of words at the beginning of lines. For example, “these hips are” in lines eleven and twelve. Alliteration is another technique that can impact the rhythm of a poem. Take for example “pretty places” and the broader repetition of “hips” throughout the text.
Parallelism is a technique that can be seen through the repetition of the structure of a line. For example, lines nine and ten as well as lines eleven and twelve.
these hips are big hips
they need space to
are free hips.
In the first lines of ‘homage to my hips,’ the speaker jumps right into describing her hips and how much she appreciates them. Her body doesn’t follow society’s rules. It doesn’t fit into “little / petty places”. Her hips aren’t small and petite as social norms would have them be. Instead, they “need space to move”. She describes her hips as if they are separate from her. They almost have a will of their own. They are “free hips”. Her hips are not controlled or tied down by the world of fat-shaming or body negativity. She isn’t influenced by unnaturally skinny models, styles of clothing, or other people’s judgments. These are the chains that she’s thrown off.
these hips are mighty hips.
these hips are magic hips.
Her hips “don’t like to be held back” by anything mentioned above. They don’t like to be told they shouldn’t look the way they do. They have “never been enslaved” by those who think they know best. The choice of the word “slave” in this line is important to note. The speaker is referring to black women who were enslaved and many of whom are still enslaved today through sex trafficking. She can experience her body the way she does because she isn’t enslaved. She is free to love and be herself.
In these lines, a reader should take note of the use of anaphora. It is seen through the repetition of “these” and “they” at the beginning of multiple lines. This creates a rhythmic list of sorts that contains various descriptions of what her hips want. She also describes them as “mighty” and “magic,” a good example of alliteration. They go where they want and do what they want.
i have known them
spin him like a top!
In the final three lines of the poem, there are some good examples of enjambment. The speaker describes how her hips have seduced men, spinning them “like a top”. They’re often too much for these men to handle a fact which further empowers this speaker to love her body.
For more poems that are similarly empowering, take a look at Maya Angelou’s ‘Phenomenal Woman’ and ‘Semi-Splendid’ by Tracy K. Smith. Other related poems that also speak on a woman’s life and body include ‘Song of the Women of my Land’ by Oumar Farouk, ‘Power’ by Audre Lorde, and ‘Still I Rise’ by Maya Angelou.