A Critical Analysis of Her Work
Gwendolyn Brooks is the female poet who has been most responsive to changes in the black community, particularly in the community’s vision of itself. The first African American to be awarded a Pulitzer Prize; she was considered one of America’s most distinguished poets well before the age of fifty. Known for her technical artistry, she has succeeded in forms as disparate as Italian terza rima and the blues. She has been praised for her wisdom and insight into the African Experience in America. Her works reflect both the paradises and the hells of the black people of the world. Her writing is objective, but her characters speak for themselves. Although the idiom is local, the message is universal. Brooks uses ordinary speech, only words that will strengthen, and richness of sound to create effective poetry.
The poem The Bean Eaters (see the included poems) is a fine example of all three of these key elements. First and foremost is the use of ordinary speech. For instance the lines They eat beans mostly, this old yellow pair / Dinner is a casual affair. Each of these words are easily understandable. Though plain speech, each word is used more differently and more intensely than in ordinary discourse. Old yellow pair resounds with more meaning than old couple. “Yellow” implies faded or old; “Pair” is more compassionate than “couple”, suggesting more of a connection than just a matchup. Though easily readable, the first line sets a tone of tenderness. Dinner is a casual affair is also a unique statement. Though five plain words, each is used effectively to create an irony which is maintained for the rest of the stanza. “Dinner” and “affair” imply more formal situations, but yet are described as “casual.” This vague irony is further developed in the next two lines, Plain chipware on a plain and creaking wood, / Tin flatware. Chipware is Brooks’s own term, which originates from flatware. “Dinnerware” implies wealth and elegance, while chipware implies aged dishes used by the poor. Yet, chipware also calls up the dignity of dinnerware. The “plain and creaking wood” or table reinforces a sense of poverty. Consistent with the preceding images, “Tin flatware” implies cheapness because of tin, but also refinement from “flatware.” Each word is used to add or ...
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...eal Cool” are crisp words that impart the almost punchy style of the seven characters’ speech. This use of sound is again seen in the lines “Your sky may burn with light, / While mine, at the same moment, / Spreads beautiful to darkness.” The description of the sky burning with light personifies the blazing of the sun; and the spreading of the darkness creates an even more powerful mental image. A careful inspection of each of these poems also reveals that no words are used that do not contribute to the meaning of the poem. “We Real Cool” acquires a powerful meaning through the employment of only thirty-two words. “Corners on the curving sky also is quite brief, but still very powerful, and it only contains fourteen lines.
It is important to not that the direction of Brooks’s literary career shifted dramatically in the late 1960’s. While attending a black writers’ conference she was struck by the passion of the young poets. Before this happened, she had regarded herself as essentially a universalist, who happened to be black. After the conference, she shifted from writing about her poems about black people and life to writing for the black population.
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