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Literally “Too Cool” for Words, Essay Example

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Essay

Introduction

Gwendolyn Brooks’s poem, “We Real Cool”, is perhaps the most outstanding example of how minimalist writing can capture a subject and a message.   In four, very brief stanzas, and employing words of only one syllable, Brooks vividly brings to life a gang of urban boys in the space of the few seconds it requires to read the poem.  “We Real Cool” demonstrates how a poet can bridge the gap between words and meaning through the most economical use of language conceivable.

Structure and Meaning

It is virtually impossible to separate the form of “We Real Cool” from its actual content, and this is at least partially due to the severe minimalism of that form.  The poem is composed of only four stanzas, and each stanza contains only two, brief, staccato lines.  These lines are the thoughts or words of the pool playing boys who are clearly the subject, and the actual expressions they use completely depend upon the style in which they speak, or think.  These utterances are components which could not be expressed in any other way, because no other style of writing could so perfectly reflect the essences of these arrogant, urban, and shockingly self-aware boys.   This is language and form virtually serving as content.

The poem’s rhythm’s are equally effective, and also serve to define the character of the subjects.   Every sentence is three words, which renders them simple declarations of fact.   Then, all but the last line end in the word, “we”, and this greatly punctuates the cockiness of the boys.  The poem does not have a sing-song quality, mainly because it is simply too brief, but there is a pulse.   Read aloud, or even heard in the mind, the meter sounds like a quick drumbeat, or a few raps at a door.  This quality is reinforced by the use of only monosyllabic words.   Then, and even more subtly, the already brief stanzas decrease in size as the poem goes on, making it seem like an eddy, or vortex, of verse.

Tied to these structural elements is an aspect of the declarative mode of the poem.  That is, it is as though the boys have stopped playing only for a moment, to look up and present themselves as they know themselves, and in the bare skeleton of language they possess.  This seems tribal, or primitive, especially as the first, straightforward assertions are followed by hip, poetic-sounding statements.   After saying that they “strike straight”, the boys declare, “We/ Sing sin. We/ Thin gin. We/ Jazz June…”  Again, the lines ending in the plural, even in this quick verse, seem to “thud”, to make it clear that the “we” is the center of everything.  Then, as to that language following, there is a minimalist elegance, as urban slang may often display.  “Sing sin” is a powerful pair of words, implying a joy taken in sinning; “Jazz June” is more mysterious, yet just as poetic.   The alliteration here underscores that preceding it, and emphasizes the wild spirit of the declarations.   Those simple words evoke spring, music, and sheer fun.

Finally, the brevity of the structure powerfully underscores the last sentence, “We die soon”.

In these three words, which completely contradict the confidence of the previous lines, a stunning self-awareness is revealed.   Moreover, upon taking it in, the line then alters in the mind; it does not defy the spirit of the boys, but rather explains it, and fully.

Conclusion

Gwendolyn Brooks beautifully demonstrates in this poem how stark usage of simple language in an equally bare structure can deliver enormous impact and meaning.  “We Real Cool” reveals how a poet can bridge the gap between language and scene through the most economical use of language conceivable.

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