Gwendolyn Brooks Essay - Brooks, Gwendolyn (Vol. 2)

Brooks, Gwendolyn (Vol. 2)

Brooks, Gwendolyn 1917–

Pulitzer Prize-winning Black American poet. (See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 1-4, rev. ed.)

"Report From Part One" is a seemingly chunk and hunk assemblage of photographs, interviews, letters—backward glances on growing up in Chicago and coming of age in the Black Arts Movement. It is not a sustained dramatic narrative for the nosey, being neither the confessions of a private woman/poet or the usual sort of mahoghany-desk memoir public personages inflict upon the populace at the first sign of a cardiac. It is simply an extremely valuable book that is all of a piece and readable and memorable in unexpected ways. It documents the growth of Gwen Brooks. Documents that essentially lonely (no matter how close and numerous the friends who support, sustain and encourage you to stretch out and explore) process of opening the eyes, wrenching the self away from played-out modes, and finding new directions. It shows her reaching toward a perspective that reflects the recognition that the black artist is obliged to fashion an esthetic linked to the political dynamics of the community she serves.

Gwendolyn Brooks, Poet Laureate of Illinois as well as Bard of Bronzeville, was considered one of America's leading poets long before her 50th year. She is known for her technical artistry, having worked her word sorcery in forms as disparate as Italian terza rima and the blues. She has been applauded for her revelations of the African experience in America, particularly her sensitive portraits of black women in collections like "Street in Bronzeville" (1945) and the novel "Maud Martha" (1953). Since she was first published at age 13, she has been awarded numerous poetry accolades: two Guggenheims, an American Academy of Arts and Letters grant, and a Pulitzer Prize. Yet, it was in her 50th year that something happened, a something most certainly in evidence in "In the Mecca" (1968) and subsequent works—a new movement and energy, intensity, richness, power of statement and a new stripped, lean, compressed style. A change of style prompted by a change of mind….

Like the younger black poets, Gwen Brooks since the late Sixties has been struggling for a cadence, style, idiom and content that will politicize and mobilize. Like the young black poets, her recent work is moving more toward gesture, sound, intonation, attitude and other characteristics that depend on oral presentation rather than private eyeballing. It is important to have the poet herself assess these moves in her own way so as to establish the ground for future critical biographies. But "change" and "shift" may be too heavy-handed, somewhat misleading; for in rereading the bulk of her work, which "Report" does prompt one to do, we see a continuum….

[Something] must be said about the style of self-revelation, self-presentation in the autobiographical section, which at a glance seems thin and couldn't possibly cover the years 1917–71. It is not so much thin as it is highly selective, suggestive, concentrated and compressed….

For no reason I know of, this section of the book is strangely moving. It takes some kind of genius to stir something deep in the blood with mere lists, dates, quick-shot scenes, seemingly truncated remembrances—reticences in fact. But it is, after all, a master poet addressing us. And we know of course how powerful untalk can be, those of us with grandmothers born anywhere south of the Potomac. Their silences can crash glass. The pauses, the unsaids cause internal bleeding. And Gwen Brooks uses that technique to help convey the warmth of her household, the solidity of her parents, the joys of solitude and the romance of courtship.

Toni Cade Bambara, in The New York Times Book Review (© 1973 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), January 7, 1973, pp. 1, 10.