The poem “We Real Cool” by Gwendolyn Brooks is iconic, timeless, and relevant in many different ways. Born in the early 1900’s, Brooks grew up in an age before the Civil Rights Movement as a black woman. This is reflective in much of her poetry, and is particularly apparent in her short, descriptive poem entitled “We Real Cool”.
Although only ten lines total, Brooks was able to achieve a level of concrete description that most poets can only imagine. With a close reading, the first thing that becomes apparent is the repetition and placement of the word “we”. This word, taken in context of the poem, as well as its historical context, illustrates the overall theme of the poem.
With regards to “We Real Cool” the “we” Gwendolyn Brooks constantly refers to clearly outline the tight-knit and oppressed African-American population. Born in Topeka, Kansas, Brooks was moved to her hometown of Chicago as an infant. The poem “We Real Cool” is not only an autobiographical recollection of memories, but a social commentary.
After referring to “seven pool players”, she epitomizes the concept of “less is more”, using concrete images to paint an accurate picture of her experiences growing up in a racially charged Chicago. During the poem, she almost hauntingly reminisces of memories of what are clearly pool halls, bars or dance halls, drinking, and skipping school. However, it is the words in between that matter more: “cool”, “school”, “late”, “straight”, “sin”, “gin”, “June”, and “soon”. In many ways this is a very accurate portrayal of African-American culture–rejected by mainstream America, very often they turned to a counter-culture, or antisocial behavior.
All the above behaviors Ms. Brooks describes are obviously meant to portray an overall concept, rather than simply a direct correlation to her childhood. Driven to skipping school, alcohol, and sneaking out were looked at as normal behavior, especially in an inner-city urban area such as Chicago. Keeping this idea in mind, as well as the ages of the direct people being described–proclaimed school age by Brooks herself–the implications are very far-reaching.
After constantly repeating the word “we” at the end of her lines to place emphasis on the importance of word, the haunting and consistent rhyme of the second words of each line were meticulously placed to tell another story. Calling them school age, as well as describing alcohol abuse decisively, Brooks uses the lines “We/Jazz June./We die soon,” to end the poem. This says a lot about the horrors she witnessed when considering schools traditionally go on break in June.
The larger theme of the concrete and descriptive poem “We Real Cool” by the late and great Gwendolyn Brooks is the hardships African-Americans faced based on her own recollections. She clearly illustrates this by the repetition, and almost isolation of the word “we” at the end of her lines, as well as her haunting rhyme that, when analyzed, tell a story within themselves. Generally considered to be one of the greatest American poets, as well as one of the most influential African-American poets–sitting right next to Langston Hughes and Maya Angelou–Gwendolyn Brooks’ masterpiece of a poem “We Real Cool” is just one example of many through her long, productive, and illustrious career.
Madden, Frank. “Gwendolyn Brooks.” Exploring Literature: Writing and Arguing about Fiction, Poetry, Drama, and the Essay. Boston: Pearson, 2012. N. pag. Print.