Brooks, Gwendolyn (Vol. 1)
Brooks, Gwendolyn 1917–
Pulitzer Prize-winning Black American poet. (See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 1-4, rev. ed.)
Gwendolyn Brooks shares with Langston Hughes the achievement of being most responsive to turbulent changes in the Black Community's vision of itself and to the changing forms of its vibrations during decades of rapid change. The depth of her responsiveness and her range of poetic resources make her one of the most distinguished poets to appear in America during the 20th Century….
Miss Brooks's current way with the expression of Black tensions must be seen as a natural organic progression and growth. Although the poet gained an inspiration during the Sixties which provided further extension of herself and her vision, and approach to community, the experience was not that sudden hot conversion on the road to Damascus so absolutely required by the inner weather of St. Paul. Blacks who see in her writing a sudden "homecoming" are often celebrating a return trip of their own. White critics who bemoan the loss of the "pure poet of the 'human condition'" reveal that they have not understood the depths of the body of her work, nor the source of her genuine universality. Despite the erratic approach of many white critics (one which really began with the publication of The Bean Eaters, 1960), Miss Brooks continues to receive the universal recognition which the quality of her poetry demands….
Miss Brooks revealed in her first book considerable technical resources, a manipulation of folk forms, a growing sense of how traditional forms must be dealt with if the power of the Black voice is to come through with integrity. A Street in Bronzeville (1945) committed its author to a restless experimentation with an elaborate range of artistic approaches. Although there are particular peaks in Miss Brooks's experimental approaches, such as those commonly recognized in Annie Allen (1949), her experimental ways have continued throughout her career. Since the late 1960's, she has been committed to the creation of a simplicity from which the man who pauses reflectively at his glass in the tavern may gain a sense of the depth and meaning of Black lives….
On the basis of Miss Brooks's well known devotion for her fellow man and the values informing her poetry, I would say that one source of her sensibility is a religious consciousness, from which dogma has been ground away. What remains is a muscular religious reflex, guided, to paraphrase a line from one of her poems, by eyes which retain the light that bites and terrifies.
George E. Kent, "The Poetry of Gwendolyn Brooks: Part I" (© George Kent; originally appeared in Black World, September 1971), in Black World, September, 1971, pp. 30-43.
For those of us who have found endless enjoyment in the crisp, elegant verse of Gwendolyn Brooks, the recent publication of The World of Gwendolyn Brooks … has been long awaited. This volume puts to an end the desperate search for her early poetry—still very popular—but heretofore out of print. This work, too, permits the reader to chart the progress of this immaculate poet's style—from simplicity to compressed complexity. As the Black man's problems in this country deepened and became more intricate, Miss Brooks, as a sensitive interpreter of his experience, seems to have reflected these changes in her technique as well as in the ingredients of her verse. In her later verse the precise sonnets and clear narrative style of the ballads are missing, and in their places stand free-flowing verse replete with sharp word pictures. Because her emotions are carefully controlled, her poetry is never of the clenched-fist style. She often creates personae and lets them speak. If her characters utter bitter words, one does not confuse the creator with her creation. And what she creates is powerful and can make a "whole body so cold no fire can ever warm" it….
Miss Brooks, too, has been a chronicler—in her war sonnets, in her poem about Little Rock, in her poems about the people. But, above all, she has been a poet laureate of the Blacks who fled the land for the crowded corners of the concrete city where they, sometimes pitiably, chipped out their lives. She poetizes the heroic and unheroic moments of these folk and their marvelous quiet strengths which gradually—over the years—gained momentum and erupted into a greatness—into a force so powerful within this land—that never again will they be ignored….
Miss Brooks spans races in her poetry, not by reaching for a pre-existing Western universalism, but by exploring and digging deeply enough into the Black experience to touch that which is common to men everywhere.
Jean-Marie A. Miller, "The World of Gwendolyn Brooks" (© January 1972 by Black World; reprinted by permission of Black World and the author), in Black World, January, 1972, pp. 51-2.
[Miss Brooks'] poetry reveals the ancient in the guise of the modern, the dedicated Afro-American of humane sensibility in the guise of the philosopher-poet….
[The World of Gwendolyn Brooks] is not flawless; there are defects in each of the works included in the volume that are endemic to a poet who harbors an almost child-like fascination for words. Often Miss Brooks twists words into obscure and abstract patterns and is hypnotized by sound, and the rich, colorful images produced by word clusters. All too often,… her fascination leads her to break the unwritten pact between writer and reader—that at some point, the words must communicate, symbols, myths and metaphors should not be obscured beyond all relationship to the reader's life and experiences. In some of the poems in this anthology … there is a tendency towards obscurity and abstraction.
Such poems are few; the majority contain the muscular tone and energy that characterized the nuance of expression of those whose poetry first told "of Death and suffering and unvoiced longing towards a truer world, of misty wanderings and hidden ways." A modern equivalent of the artistic creations of the first black poets and a documentation of the hopes, aspirations and dreams of black people, [The World of Gwendolyn Brooks] is a tremendous achievement, one which reaffirms Gwendolyn Brooks's works as classics in our times.
Addison Gayle, Jr., in New York Times Book Review (© 1972 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), January 2, 1972, pp. 4, 20.