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by Lucille Clifton
Illustrated by Michael Garland
E P Dutton, 1981
Written by one of the sassiest voices in poetry—Lucille Clifton—comes the delightful novella, Sonora Beautiful. The voice is strong and angsty and delightful. (You can hear excerpts from the novella read by Clifton herself at the Poetry Center in 1983 here on Voca). The title character, Sonora, is our narrator who leads us through her so-called life. She opens with: “Some mornings I wake up and I am real ugly. I’m not joking. My face is all broken out. My ears are waving like wings. My legs and arms have shrunk or something. My clothes fall off me like off a stick,” (5). Not only is the voice strong and poetic and repeats the funny phrase “I’m not joking” throughout, but the language is also fresh and lively with metaphor and simile. After Sonora makes these comments, her Mom assures Sonora, “Oh, stop. You are beautiful, Sonora. Beautiful.”
Sonora’s not convinced. She continues sass-talking, back-talking on and on. She complains about being named after a desert: “I had to be named after a desert,” (9). And also complains that her Dad is a poet: “Andrew is a poet. I’m not joking. A poet” and “he spends his days writing poems, or thinking about poems…He gets letters about putting poems in books. I’m not joking,” (13). I love the repetition of the phrase, “I’m not joking.” This phrase makes me laugh so much, that my husband and I often use it mid-conversation: “I ate that whole bag of chips today. I’m not joking.”
Sonora continues in her attitude-y teenage fashion, ripping on this and that, but the novella ends with a lovely turn: “Andrew reads us a really beautiful poem or something like that. We sit there awhile. We smile and love each other a whole lot in the morning quiet, just like we do. We’re a family and it’s beautiful. Beautiful. I’m not joking.”
Some of my good friends recently had twins. They named their son River and their daughter Sonora. Seeing as they were born in Tucson, these names seem so fitting for these two adorable babies. I recently sent my friends this book, not just because the title character shares their young daughter's name, but also because of a few other similarities. Sonora’s Dad, my friend Chet, is a writer. And, in the book, Sonora’s father is a poet. We also discover that the title character, Sonora, is named just so because her parents met in the Sonoran desert in Arizona. This state and desert are also where Chet, Jen, and I live, too. I absolutely had to buy this book for them. I'm not joking.
Allie Leach is the Poetry Center's Education Programs Assistant and co-editor of the Wordplay blog.