"homage to my hips" Summary

homage to my hips” is a poem included in the 1980 collection Two-Headed Woman by Lucille Clifton, a member of the Black Arts Movement.

  • The poem’s speaker pays tribute to her large hips, which need room to move and don’t like to be confined in small spaces or “petty” situations.
  • The speaker celebrates her hips’ freedom, noting that they “have never been enslaved” and that they do as they please and go where they like.
  • The speaker declares that her hips are “mighty” and magical and have even been known to cast spells on men.

Summary

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Last Updated on December 11, 2020, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 633

Introduction

Lucille Clifton was an influential member of the Black Arts Movement, which also included such poets as Langston Hughes, Gwendolyn Brooks, and Adrienne Kennedy. Artists involved with this movement expressed pride in Black culture and history through poetry, fiction, drama, and the visual arts. They encouraged Black people to embrace their Blackness and everything Black identity brings with it, including their appearance. Poets, as well as photographers and painters, portrayed the beauty of physical characteristics associated with Black people, such as textured hair and, for women, wide hips.

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“homage to my hips,” a celebration of the Black female body, is the third poem in the first section, “homage to mine,” of Clifton’s 1980 collection, Two-Headed Woman. An “homage” is a tribute, a public statement of honor and respect for someone or something. The poem that precedes “homage to my hips” is “homage to my hair,” which, like “homage to my hips,” praises a physical feature of Black womanhood for its power and its appeal to men. “homage to my hips” uses a series of adjectives, all applied to “these hips,” to show the power and appeal of a Black female speaker’s body. With one exception, each section follows the initial statement “these hips are [adjective] hips” with one or two examples showing evidence of that characteristic and its effects.

Summary

The first section begins with “these hips are big hips.” This opening describes a physical fact about the speaker, that her hips are large. Next, Clifton shows a literal aspect of a person’s hips being big: they require more room to move through the world. The speaker then describes a subtler effect of her hips’ size: it prevents her from becoming involved in small and “petty” situations, because she lives her life on a larger scale.

The next section represents the speaker’s hips as “free.” Clifton has the speaker characterize her hips as disliking restraint. This desire to move without barriers is evidence of the hips’ freedom. The poem then moves on to a deeper meaning of that word. Like many Black Americans, Clifton had ancestors who were enslaved, and her poetic contemplations of her racial identity often engage with that history. Here, the speaker states that her hips have never experienced the constraints of slavery, as it is implied her ancestors did. The hips are part of a free body, the body of a person who can do as she wants. This fact becomes explicit in the next two lines, as the speaker explains that her hips can “go” and “do” according to their own wishes.

The third section of the poem is only one line. Clifton writes, “these hips are mighty hips.” In contrast to the other three sections, the poem provides no evidence of the hips’ might or that might’s effect. However, hips that are “big,” “free,” and “magic” might reasonably be described as mighty. Clifton chooses to let this statement stand on its own, perhaps to let the reader draw their own conclusions.

The final section of the poem describes the speaker’s hips as “magic.” Clifton gives a single piece of evidence for this quality. Saying “I have known them,” the speaker suggests her hips are separate from her, and their behavior is unpredictable. These independent hips are “magic” in that they can put a spell on a man, presumably by creating attraction. The simile “spin him like a top” has two possible meanings, depending on whether it is the man’s head or his body that the speaker’s hips set spinning. Either way, this ending is triumphant, celebrating the speaker’s hips for the power that the poem shows they have. As such, Clifton’s piece truly represents an homage, a tribute to Black women’s hips for their exceptional qualities.

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Themes