Lucille Clifton

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Write a formalist criticism about “There Is a Girl Inside” by Lucille Clifton.

A formalist criticism of “There Is a Girl Inside” could discuss the repetition of she and how the pronoun structures the poem and shape its sound. A formalist critique might also touch on the order and organization of the poem’s images.

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Formalist criticism of Lucille Clifton’s “There Is a Girl Inside” will emphasize the poem itself. Formalist analysis centers on what’s in the poem and not on issues that could be related to the poem but aren’t an explicit part of it. Writing a formalist critique about Clifton’s poem means setting aside how it might connect to theories about gender, autobiographical elements, and so on. The poem does not directly mention gender theory or autobiographical details.

The poem does have repetition. A formalist critique could discuss how the reoccurrence of she structures the poem and contributes to its sound. By continually returning to she, the poem develops rhythm and melody. Additionally, she sort of functions like an organizing principle. Again and again, the poem returns to she. Hardly two lines go by without the presence of she. It’s safe to say that the poem is built around she.

Formalist criticism might also talk about the images of the poem and how the images are arranged. In the first stanza, the image is of a girl as “randy as a wolf.” In the next stanza, the girl is compared to a tree. In the third stanza, the girl is likened to a nun. This image breaks with the first two images. The first two images deal with nature and animals. The third stanza couples the girl to a human figure.

In the final stanza, the focus isn’t on the girl but on her “lovers” who are harvesting “honey and thyme.” In the last stanza, there’s a second picture of the woods going “wild” over the girl. After stressing the girl for the first three stanzas, the poem turns the spotlight on reactions to the girl. It’s like the girl has been giving a performance and now the audience—the woods— is applauding.

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