I admit that I didn't always enjoy poetry. In my youth, particularly high school, poetry was a chore--something to read that was nearly incomprehensible. Nowhere near the joy that it is to me today. That is, however, except for one poem: "We Real Cool" by Gwendolyn Brooks. You can read it here or, better yet, listen to Brooks read it herself here. I think you'll see why I found it so entrancing.
Brooks also wrote many poems that captured the African American experience in Chicago...an experience that blacks nationwide could relate to. Take, for example, "kitchenette building," a splendid piece:
We are things of dry hours and the involuntary plan,
Grayed in, and gray. “Dream” makes a giddy sound, not strong
Like “rent,” “feeding a wife,” “satisfying a man.”
But could a dream send up through onion fumes
Its white and violet, fight with fried potatoes
And yesterday’s garbage ripening in the hall,
Flutter, or sing an aria down these rooms
Even if we were willing to let it in,
Had time to warm it, keep it very clean,
Anticipate a message, let it begin?
Read the poem in its entirety here.
But Gwendolyn Brooks was not limited to being an "African American poet," and I hope no one would dare only categorize her as such. She is truly an American poet, or better yet, a "human poet," as her themes are often universal. One of my all time favorites of hers is "when you have forgotten Sunday: the love story:"
—And when you have forgotten the bright bedclothes on a Wednesday and a Saturday,
And most especially when you have forgotten Sunday—
When you have forgotten Sunday halves in bed,
Or me sitting on the front-room radiator in the limping afternoon
Looking off down the long street
Hugged by my plain old wrapper of no-expectation
And nothing-I-have-to-do and I’m-happy-why?
When you have forgotten that, I say,
And how you swore, if somebody beeped the bell,
And how my heart played hopscotch if the telephone rang;
And how we finally went in to Sunday dinner,
That is to say, went across the front room floor to the ink-spotted table in the southwest corner
To Sunday dinner, which was always chicken and noodles
Or chicken and rice
And salad and rye bread and tea
And chocolate chip cookies—
Finish this brilliant poem here.
If you have time, please also give the following poems a read:
- "The Bean Eaters"
- "a song in the front yard"
- "Boy Breaking Glass"
- "my dreams, my works, must wait till after hell"
- "The Mother" (be forewarned...this one is gut-wrenchingly sad)
I don't get around in "poetry circles," so I don't know if Ms. Brooks is a well-known poet or not. Nor do I know how highly regarded she is. In my mind, she's near the top, though. And her contribution to poetry deserves recognition.
Again, if you've missed any of the countdown, please feel free to peruse numbers 10 through 4. And stay tuned for numbers 2 and 1 coming up later this week!