When it comes to literary awards, it's a lot easier to talk about what Lucille Clifton hasn't won. She's got a resume that could go on for days – and it includes such honors as the National Book Award, the Ruth Lilly Lifetime Achievement Award, the Coretta Scott King Award, and grants from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Academy of American Poets. Her work was short-listed for the Pulitzer Prize – twice.
If all that hardware doesn't knock your socks off, then we're betting that Clifton's poetry will. She explores the female body, the conditions of womanhood, and her life as an African-American woman in verse so stripped-down and clear that it sounds like a voice speaking inside your head. Clifton tackles some pretty tough topics, and she does so with characteristic grace.
Perhaps that's why she's been one of the centers of the American poetry scene since her first book came out in 1969. Writing in the decades immediately following the Civil Rights Movement and feminist movements, Clifton paid attention to the cultural and political landscapes of her times. Her poems engage with some pretty tough topics (like, say, female body image), but they do so in joyful and even playful ways.
When Clifton died in February of 2010, she had penned thirteen books of poetry and one collection of essays. Not shabby work. More importantly, she'd managed to capture the voice of a certain kind of American woman: a strong, bold woman who isn't afraid to say and be exactly what she wants.
If you've ever looked in the mirror and frowned or gazed longingly at a pair of jeans that were just one size too small or refused to eat lunch so that you could go out for dinner, then this is the poem for you. You could think of this poem as a reality check: it's actively dismissing the twenty-seven million kinds of crazy and self-destructive attitudes that people have regarding their own bodies.
Our speaker LOVES her hips. Just in case you think we're telling you something which is just too crazy to be true, we're going to repeat ourselves: our speaker LOVES her hips. And we're guessing that she's just as crazy about every bit of her body, from her toenails to her eyebrows. Sound strange? Maybe that's because it's just not all that common for a woman to openly discuss her body – much less talk about it in a loving and caring way.
Reading this poem, we can't help but get caught up in her infectious love of her own body. As it turns out, it feels pretty good to be comfortable in the skin you're in. So stop treating your body as if it were hostile territory that needed to be run and dieted and prodded into submission. Read this poem instead. We guarantee that you'll be happy you did.