Poetry Response: “In the Inner City”

My AP Literature teacher assigns us a poetry response each week, where we choose a poem we like from Sound and Sense and write a one-page analysis and/or reaction to it.

“In the Inner City”

by Lucille Clifton

in the inner city


like we call it


we think a lot about uptown

and the silent nights

and the houses straight as

dead men

and the pastel lights

and we hang on to our no place

happy to be alive

and in the inner city


like we call it


*from Sound and Sense, page 129


Lucille Clifton’s “Inner City,” articulates that a sense of “home” cannot be contained in money and order and debunks the myth of “home” as a community of neatly lined, beige colored houses. With echoing prose and diction, “In the Inner City” paints a metaphor comparing the life of the inner city against cold of the uptown neighborhood.

Clifton communicates the sense of the warmth of the inner city with effective enjambments and metaphors. The poem begins in fragments, isolating “or” and “we like to call it.” The caesura addresses the stereotype of “the inner city” as underprivileged, uncivilized, and unclean before quickly softening that rough impression with “home.” The word “home” echoes here and at the end of the poem, carrying a warm and soothing sound.

It then shifts its focus to an inner city inhabitant’s impression of “uptown.” There, the neatness and rigidity of uptown homes resembles those of lined up coffins. Clifton elucidates this chilling impression by isolating “dead men,” for the word “dead” carries a weight that sinks the freedom of the inner city. Then the narrator returns to the inner city, or “our no place,” as if for a breath of relief. To outsiders, “no place” literally translates as lost and homeless, but it is also a freedom that thrives in the disorder of the inner city and wilts in the tidiness of the uptown neighborhood. Understandably, inner city inhabitants are “happy to be alive” in a community with a warmth and liberty worthy of to call “home.”

I quickly fell in love with this poem’s impression of the urban environment. It reminded me of my first visit to Los Angeles. As an [My suburban city]-nian, I felt a sense of freedom in the activity and diversity of downtown Los Angeles that the poem articulates. In the inner city, there’s a beauty under the vignettes of the graffiti on the wall, the business man passing a homeless beggar, and the bustle of the subway station that an uptown neighborhood like mine would quickly paint over with beige.


One thought on “Poetry Response: “In the Inner City”

  1. Hi! 🙂 I study on English Language and Literaturein Gaziantep University, Gaziantep, Turkey and we have that poem in oliur poetry lesson. I was looking for the poem “in the inner city” by Lucille Clifton and came across to your blog and it’s been really helpful 🙂 Well done!
    And Good Luck!

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