I was introduced to Gwendolyn Brooks via Bedford’s Introduction to Literature. I liked her rhythm, easy rhyme, the simplicity then reveal. But it was just that. Simple. And I like simple. A lot. But this poem alone is not a proper introduction:
“We Real Cool”
The Pool Players.
Seven at the Golden Shovel.
We real cool. We
Left school. We
Lurk late. We
Strike straight. We
Sing sin. We
Thin gin. We
Jazz June. We
Okay, fast forward just a few years and I was introduced to Gwendolyn Brooks in real life while working as a peon at Poetry magazine. She was sweet and delightful and we chatted and I told her I came across a flyer from when had been the Poetry Day poet years ago and she said she’d love to have one of those flyers, so I sent her one and she sent me a sweet thank-you note. And that is one of my stories you will probably hear again should I ever have the chance to tell it.
Of course, when I chatted with her, I only had in mind the “We Real Cool” poem. I wish, upon first introduction to Gwendolyn Brooks, Bedford had given me a sampling of her poetic diversity, cause HERE she is again:
“gay chaps at the bar”
We knew how to order. Just the dash
Necessary. The length of gaiety in good taste.
Whether the raillery should be slightly iced
And given green, or served up hot and lush,
And we knew beautifully how to give to women
The summer spread, the tropics, of our love,
When to persist, or hold a hunger off.
Knew white speech. How to make a look an omen.
But nothing ever taught us to be islands.
And smart, athletic language for this hour
Was not in the curriculum. No stout
Lesson showed how to chat with death. We brought
No brass fortissimo, among our talents,
To holler down the lions in this air.
Sigh. The “We Real Cool” poem for which she is so well known was published in 1960. Poetry magazine published “gay chaps at the bar” in 1944. No excuse, Bedford. You had them both at your disposal.
I’m not knocking “We Real Cool,” it’s just that it would be beneficial for students of all races to hear something more “sophisticated” from the pen of this incredibly talented African-American woman. To at least know the scope of her talent. And to not associate the language of “We Real Cool” with the color of her skin. To picture her dark face and hear, “The summer spread, the tropics, of our love”; “How to make a look an omen”; “nothing ever taught us to be islands”; and “holler down the lions in this air.”