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Lucille Clifton


What is the idea behind “Homage to my Hips”?

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droxonian eNotes educator | Certified Educator

Clifton’s poem is, essentially, an ode to self-empowerment. It critiques the idea that women’s bodies should be small enough to “fit into little / petty places” and that women as a whole should not take up space in the world. The speaker selects a part of the body about which many women feel insecure and declares that “these hips / are free hips,” not “enslaved” by social pressures.

There is some element of synecdoche in…

Clifton’s poem is, essentially, an ode to self-empowerment. It critiques the idea that women’s bodies should be small enough to “fit into little / petty places” and that women as a whole should not take up space in the world. The speaker selects a part of the body about which many women feel insecure and declares that “these hips / are free hips,” not “enslaved” by social pressures.

There is some element of synecdoche in the poem in that, while it is about the speaker’s hips in a literal sense, the hips also seem to represent the whole person: a woman who, will “do what [she] want[s] to do” and go where she wants to go. The “magic” in the speaker’s “free” hips is the same magic which enables her to “put a spell on a man / and spin him like a top,” indicating that confidence and self-empowerment is the most attractive thing of all. Like the hips it describes, the structure of the poem is “free,” and the way it is arranged on the page seems to represent the curve of a hip, blooming out from the “little petty places” detailed in the short early lines to declare at its widest point: “these hips have never been enslaved.”

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Student Answers

epollock | Student
This is a poem that surprises by its frankness. The line lengths are uneven and free, perhaps suggesting a swaying, dancelike motion. The structural development is also free and spontaneous. In lines 1, 5, 8, 11, and 12, new units begin with the phrase these hips. Elsewhere, the structure is governed by the repetition of they. These structures all suggest movement. The freedom and informality suggested by the motion is also complemented by the poem’s lack of capitalization.
The topic of a speaker’s hips is not the usual subject material of poetry. The attitude expressed here is not only that the speaker speaks freely about her hips, but demonstrates total delight in them, without embarrassment but with pride and the memory of delight and power.

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