Published on March 15, 2014
in the inner city by Lucille Clifton Lindsey Nestor
Poem 1 in the inner city or like we call it home 5 we think a lot about uptown and the silent nights and the houses straight as dead men and the pastel lights 10 and we hang on to our no place happy to be alive and in the inner city or like we call it 15 home
Repetition • The phrase “in the inner city/or/like we call it/home” begins and ends the poem (1-4, 12-15). • This solidifies the idea that despite all negative connotations the phrase “inner city” has, the inner city is a home for many people who have no other place to go. “Home” evokes an emotion much more positive than “inner city,” insinuating that the inner city has some redeeming qualities to make it a home.
Structure • Seemingly random length of lines • No rhyme scheme • The disorganization of the poem’s structure parallels the chaos that outsiders often associate with the inner city.
Capitalization and Punctuation • No capitalization and punctuation whatsoever is present in the poem • This is a reflection of the assumption that inner- city dwellers are uneducated and unintelligent.
Imagery • Clifton creates a vividly negative image of the wealthier “uptown” part of the city (5). • She begins by thinking about the “silent nights” of the uptown. • This description is her reflection on the lack of life and vibrancy in the boring wealthier areas.
Imagery • Next, the uptown houses are said to be “straight as/dead men” (7-8). • This lines has multiple meanings. First, it alludes to the violence that is present in the inner city, which is a reason many who aren’t native to those parts of the city are scared to go there. However, the speaker notes that the uptown houses are straight as dead men, using those words not in connection with the inner city. This comparison again shows the lifelessness of the uptown areas. The speaker feels that he or she would rather deal with physical lifelessness due to violence in the inner city than with the unoriginal, monotonous, dull sort of lifelessness of the people uptown.
Imagery • The speaker finishes the description of uptown by describing its “pastel lights” (9). • The people uptown are often assumed to be brighter and better from those in the inner city, however, from the speaker’s point of view, the lights of uptown are dim and faded, suggesting that the speaker believes the assumption that uptown people are better is false.
Diction • Clifton uses contrasting diction to present the idea that the way outsiders view the inner city is not the way its inhabitants see it. ▫ “Inner city,” “dead men,” “silent nights” (1, 8 ,6) VS ▫ “Home,” “happy,” “alive” (4, 9)
Diction • The speaker also uses the term “no place” to describe the inner city, playing off of the outsider’s point of view that inner city people are unhappy and without a home or purpose. • However, the people in the inner city don’t have such negative feelings toward their home, and actually enjoy it.
Definition of Poetry • "Poetry should be great & unobtrusive, a thing which enters into one's soul, and does not startle it or amaze it with itself but with its subject“ (Keats). • “in the inner city” can be seen as great poetry, because the poem itself is brief and, on the surface, seemingly simple, but its subject forces the reader to view a commonly held opinion in a different light, from the perspective of the people being viewed negatively.
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