A Poetics of Family and Gender

While raising her family, Clifton became a writer of children’s books and poety. Many of her book titles suggest awareness of the lives of women, and indeed womanhood is a major presence in her art. As she wrote in 1987, “this is the tale/ i keep on telling/ trying to get it right.” Her poems portray a long “line/ of black and going on women,” who reject and rediscover their blackness, endure cold, make mistakes, grieve, blame and dream, hunger and feed, bleed, break and break through, love and defend, “trust the Gods,” expend their bodies, and perform with daily magic the making of families and homes. Although individuals sometimes fail or are destroyed, together they are the survivors through whom black America keeps persevering. They “know how long and strong life is” and they know “what to do.” In many poems, the history and fate of the family is presented in the form of a mother-daughter dialectic of the same but different self. To the mother, the daughter is “my more than me.” The daughter “puts on a dress called woman” but does not forget.

Lucyis the history ofher girlsare the place wherelucywas going

The good and the bad times in the lives of families are associated with men also. Men have the...

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Bibliography

Clifton, Lucille. “A Simple Language.” In Black Women Writers, 1950-1980: A Critical Evaluation, edited by Mari Evans. Garden City, N. Y.: Anchor Press/Doubleday, 1983. A statement about being a black woman poet.

Lazer, Hank. “Blackness Blessed: The Writings of Lucille Clifton.” The Southern Review 25, no. 3 (July, 1989): 760-770. Because the primary purpose of Clifton’s poetry is to help African Americans to know themselves, her uses of language fuse political and aesthetic concerns.

McCluskey, Audrey T. “Tell the Good News: A View of the Works of Lucille Clifton.” In Black Women Writers, 1950-1980: A Critical Evaluation, edited by Mari Evans. Garden City, N.Y.: Anchor Press/Doubleday, 1983. Notes that in her poetry and children’s books, Clifton writes with realism and the strength to say “yes” to life.

Madhubuti, Haki. “Lucille Clifton: Warm Water, Greased Legs, and Dangerous Poetry.” In Black Women Writers, 1950-1980: A Critical Evaluation, edited by Mari Evans. Garden City, N.Y.: Anchor Press/Doubleday, 1983. An interpretation by noted African American poet of the importance of Clifton’s poetry for African Americans.

Rushing, Andrea Benton. “Lucille Clifton: A Changing Voice for Changing Times.” In Coming to Light: American Women Poets in the Twentieth Century, edited by Diane Wood Middlebrook and Marilyn Yalom. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1985. The major influence on Clifton’s poetry was the Black Arts movement of the 1960’s and 1970’s, with its emphasis upon political, sexual, and spiritual liberation, black speech and music, the intuited truths of black experience, and a black audience. Clifton has found her own voice in writing about women’s issues, the psychic tensions in the complex lives of modern women, her family heritage, and her religious experience.

Scarupa, Harriet Jackson. “Lucille Clifton: Making the World ‘Poem-Up’.” Ms. 5, no. 4 (October, 1976): 118, 120, 123. A visit to Clifton’s home reveals the relationship between her life experiences and themes in her poetry.