Lucille Clifton is sometimes seen as breaking poetic conventions. How does her use of unconventional form help her convey the message of her poem "Untitled"?

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thanatassa | College Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

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Lucille Clifton's poem, "Untitled" uses fairly colloquial free verse, a form that had become common in the early twentieth century, and therefore cannot properly be termed unconventional in a poet of the second half of the twentieth century. Instead, one can think of two evolving types of convention in African-American poetry of her period, one which attempts to return to the more richly textured and metrical language of spirituals and preaching that were historically central to much of the 19th century African-American experience, and the second, used by Clifton, that uses fairly flat, prosaic colloquial language to convey the immediacy of lived experience. 

Clifton's use of simple prosaic language creates a sense of autobiographical realism. The lower case letters and short lines make the poem appear much more colloquial and gritty than the actual language would warrant if punctuated conventionally and written in paragraph form as:

"Somewhere, some woman just like me tests the lock on the window in the children’s room, lays out tomorrow’s school clothes, [and] sets the table for breakfast early..."

This colloquialism is intended to create a contrast between the experience of a more typical black housewife (or even Clifton's past self) and Clifton herself who works as a university professor. 

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