Poem Sampler

Gwendolyn Brooks 101

Classic poems from a Chicago poet.

by Danielle Chapman
Gwendolyn Brooks 101

The October 2006 issue of Poetry magazine features Danielle Chapman’s extended consideration of the poems and life of Gwendolyn Brooks. We asked Chapman to select five Brooks poems from our online archive and to write a few lines on each.

the mother
As the story goes, Richard Wright begged Brooks not to publish this poem, saying that the world wasn’t ready to read about abortion. Brooks disregarded his advice and published it in her first book, A Street in Bronzeville. It is a poem of complex artistry: not merely a statement, but one of Brooks’s first truly original works. At once empathetic and lacerating in its irony, the poem presents the voice of a conflicted conscience as it attempts to rationalize the actions of the past.

the vacant lot
Though she’s thought of as a patron saint of Bronzeville, Brooks created portraits of her neighbors that were often satirical. Here in one word, “majesty,” she nails Mrs. Coley in all her bumptious, deluded self-regard. Brooks’s jabs usually have a tone of good humor about them, though; especially in her early years, we get the sense that she was amused, rather than disgusted, by most examples of ordinary human folly.

a song in the front yard

This is a great poem to teach. It has vivid, concrete images and a superbly controlled voice, and it manages to question an entire moral-societal order in language that is completely understandable to your average eighth-grader.

We Real Cool
Her most famous poem, it’s often brought up as an example of what an amazing reader Brooks was. Adopting the bebop rhythm that the poem uses to make its point about the fast life, emphasizing the “We” at the end of every line until the end, where the “We” vanishes, she stunned audiences with this one. It’s definitely an example of Brooks’s virtues as a craftswoman, yet I think (as she did) that the poem is way overrated. She was far too ambitious a poet to allow her reputation to rest on well-executed gimmicks.

The Lovers of the Poor
Written during the civil rights movement, this masterful poem marked a change in Brooks’s thinking and a fierce awakening to the racism that surrounded her. While it retains the control, irony, and brilliantly imagined details that were signatures of Brooks’s style, it employs these techniques to expose the injustices she’d endured throughout her life. It’s shocking to read this poem now (more than 40 years after it was written) and find that it still crackles with the electricity of justified rage.

Originally Published: October 9, 2006

COMMENTS (26)

On April 25, 2007 at 12:04pm mohmmad saleh wrote:
i lke her poems

On April 25, 2007 at 12:05pm RODERICK COBBS wrote:
I LIKE YOUR ARTICAL ABOUT GWENDOYLN BROOKS

On June 14, 2007 at 5:17pm K. Holder wrote:
The poem I like is "The Vacant Lot"

On June 14, 2007 at 5:17pm Jessica Gonzalez/ Olive Harvey/English Lit. wrote:
"The Mother" was perhaps before its time but speaks to us all; we've all had to make difficult choices in our lives.

On June 14, 2007 at 5:19pm Tanya Hagerman wrote:
Informative Read.

On June 14, 2007 at 5:24pm Jeremy/ Olive Harvey wrote:
Her poems speak people of color and show the everyday struggles they go through on a day to day basis in her day to the present. Personally I like "Children of the Poor" and "The Blackstone Rangers"

On June 14, 2007 at 5:25pm Karen Hearon wrote:
Prof. Pennington-Jones June 14, 2007 Intro to Literature
This is in reference to "We Real Cool"
I think Brooks took a chance with doing a more bebop style to this poem and because of this particular approach it may have help to catch the audience of those persons living the fast life and maybe making them think twice about living the life with the last line.

On June 14, 2007 at 5:26pm S. Booth wrote:
The poem "my dreams, my works, must wait till after hell" it very inspiring. I get the feeling that she is trying to say that her personal business is what comes last and she will worry about things that aren't important will be taken care of after she handle what means the most to her. She trying to let her readers know that you to have your priorities in order from what means the most to you and the things that don't matter the most be left behind until you return from hell as she called it.

On June 14, 2007 at 5:27pm K Lacey/ Olive Harvey College wrote:
Reading Lovers of the Poor was an inspirational poem to read. It kept me in touch with my surroundings and the struggle for black woman. This poem gave me insight on her mind state changed as a black woman. She had many obstacles to overcome through this error in her life as blacks had to overcome the racial profile.

On June 14, 2007 at 5:27pm S. Booth/ Olive Harvey wrote:
The poem "my dreams, my works, must wait till after hell" it very inspiring. I get the feeling that she is trying to say that her personal business is what comes last and she will worry about things that aren't important will be taken care of after she handle what means the most to her. She trying to let her readers know that you to have your priorities in order from what means the most to you and the things that don't matter the most be left behind until you return from hell as she called it.

On June 14, 2007 at 5:28pm Mr. Kenneth Pierce - Olive-Harvey C/O 2007 wrote:
Though not a native Chicagoan, I am proud to say that Brooks is affiliated with my city. She spend her last days on the south side of Chicago and attended City Colleges of Chicago at what is now known as Kennedy-King. I once read that she died while composing some literary work with a pencil in her hand; I'm sure that's how she would have preferred to go.

On June 14, 2007 at 5:31pm Chavonia Taylor Lit110 wrote:
I think that this woman was very strong and courages to have been able to write poetry the way she she did. I've read "We Real Cool" and i loved it. The poem has great significance to everyday life of hustlers, pimps, friends, women and men.

On June 14, 2007 at 5:33pm Cyn G./Olive Harvey wrote:
There are several poems by Mrs. Books that I've identified with; she wrote in a very realsitic tone. She didn't make "fluff" poetry she made real life poetry. There are several thought provoking pieces that show the versatility that Gwendolyn brought to her writting.

On June 14, 2007 at 5:35pm C. Coleman/ P. P. Jones Class wrote:
In my Literature class we are studying Gwendolyn Brooks and her works of art. My favorite poems thus far in our studies of her are "We Real Cool" as well as "The Mother". I personally do not feel that "We Real Cool" is over rated at all. I feel that the poem was extremely creative. "The Mother" speaks to me the most. Although I am not a mother as of now, I am a god-mother. I do feel that this poem should be posted in every OBGYN office. Perhaps it would decrease the number of abortions in our world.

On June 14, 2007 at 5:38pm Artay T. Clanton/ Olive Harvey College LIT Class wrote:
First and Foremost I feel that "
Sadie and Maud' by Gwendolyn Brooks is one of the poems that I think women all around the world should have the pleasure of reading. It signifies the independent lives that women have and the joy that life might bring. I also feel that the world still isnt ready for "Mother" because it really holds a strong impact. Also " We Real Cool" is one of my fav's Cause it has the slow jazz tempo..And all around your article was wonderful..

On June 14, 2007 at 5:44pm K. Holder wrote:
To elaborate, "The Vacant Lot" is meaningful to me because i am from the Bronzeville area and there are numerous vacant lots and abandoned buildings where kids play in and dope fiends get high in, etc.

On June 14, 2007 at 5:50pm Tamara Mitchell, Olive Harvey College wrote:
Gwendolyn Brook is an interesting writer. I have read some of her bio and have learned of some of her accomplishments. What I have learned from reading different poems and discussing it out loud with classmates is that people can read the same thing but have a totally different outlook. One of my best poems by Ms. Brooks is "The Vacant Lot".

On June 14, 2007 at 5:53pm De'Andra Robertson wrote:
I think that Gwendolyn Brooks was a very interesting writer. In her writings she speaks upon different things such as, social issues, the roles of women, etc. Her poetry relates to many individual's; especially blacks. In her poem entitled, "The Mother," she speaks of an issue that affects many woman today (abortion). This is a poem every woman should read. She was the type of poet that draws her readers into her writing, and this is important because not too many writer/poets can do that.

On June 14, 2007 at 5:54pm De'Andra Robertson/Olive Harvey wrote:
I think that Gwendolyn Brooks was a very interesting writer. In her writings she speaks upon different things such as, social issues, the roles of women, etc. Her poetry relates to many individual's; especially blacks. In her poem entitled, "The Mother," she speaks of an issue that affects many woman today (abortion). This is a poem every woman should read. She was the type of poet that draws her readers into her writing, and this is important because not too many writer/poets can do that.

On June 14, 2007 at 5:54pm Tiffany Harmon wrote:
I particulary have taken interest in Gwendolyn Brooks poem "A penitent considers." Personally, I feel if Mary came back she would whoop the hell out of us cause we just know too Much.... Naw, SEriously we should continue to strive for the peace that Jesus taught Because Many of our sins are found in the rebellious folly of mans conceit and self pride she would probably urge us to humble our behavour to make our fathers heart glad...

On November 15, 2007 at 1:40pm Chinnie Burford wrote:
I am a fifty two year old junior working on a research paper about my favorite poet, Gwen Brooks. In 1979 I took a GED course. I saw the poem We Real Cool written on a blackboard. I jotted it down and put the paper away. In 2006 I found the paper in my tax folder. I googled the poem. My major is English Literature. I checked my text book and the poem was in it as well as several of other books that I own. This research paper screams to me to write it, therefore, Gwen Brooks' works are my research choice. College reading is often tedious for me, but now I find it enlightening indeed. I checked out ten books from our library about Brooks as well as those written by my favotite poet and author. Respectfully,

Chinnie D. Burford

On June 2, 2008 at 12:31pm vijaya k.R M.A M.phil wrote:
iam a research scholar working on the poems of gwendolyn brooks.I like the poem 'mother'.I found a similar poem "the lost baby "by lucille clifton.Both the poems have the similar theme ;a black woman's struggle in rearing up the children. Her difficulties make her reconsider her choice of becoming a mother and to prevent her children facing the dangers in the white world , she prepares to forego her child. Both are moving poems

On January 24, 2009 at 7:02pm Jaybee wrote:
I am particularly fond of "We Real Cool" because even though she wrote it in 1960, they young men today with the "gangsta" mentality fit the images in the poem. They need to read the last line and realize that being cool and being contemptuous of the "establishment" will get them nowhere except to an early grave. Millions of young people today take that attitude but they need to get wise, stay in school, and prepare for the future. Pretty soon, they will be the adults in the world and another generation will replace them. They can no longer rebel against authority because they will be it. Peace!

On March 19, 2009 at 10:00am Jyterria wrote:
Hi i'm Jyterria and i love how you guys

wrote about gwendolyn brooks that is

very nice i really want to learn even more

its so exciting because some things i didn't

even no about her i just think you all did a

lot of work

On February 18, 2010 at 10:33am DanTasia & Kelsey wrote:
We really enjoyed this article about gwendolyn brooks..! oh Yeahh..! We Had To do a report on her.!

On February 24, 2013 at 9:56am laci wrote:
i love her poems

POST A COMMENT

Poetryfoundation.org welcomes comments that foster dialogue and cultivate an open community on the site. Comments on articles must be approved by the site moderators before they appear on the site. By submitting a comment, you give the Poetry Foundation the right to publish it. Please note: We require comments to include a name and e-mail address. Read more about our privacy policy.

Related

from Poetry Magazine
 Danielle  Chapman

Biography

Danielle Chapman’s poetry has appeared in magazines and journals such as The Atlantic, Harvard Review, and TriQuarterly, among others. She is a critic as well as a poet, and her reviews have appeared in Poetry and the New York Times. Chapman directed the publishing-industry programs for the Chicago Office of Tourism and Culture. She lives in New Haven and teaches at Yale University.

Continue reading this biography

Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

This poem has learning resources.

This poem is good for children.

This poem has related video.

This poem has related audio.