Summary (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
Gwendolyn Brooks said this in Report from Part One: “The WEs in ’We Real Cool’ are tiny, wispy weakly argumentative ’Kilroy-is-here’ announcements. The boys have no accented sense of themselves, yet they are aware of a semi-defined personal importance. Say the ’We’ softly.”
These young men should be compared to Jeff, Gene, Geronimo, and Bop in “The Blackstone Rangers,” who were a gang of thirty seen by the “Disciplines” (the police) as “Sores in the city/ that do not want to heal.” Yet despite the police officers’ contempt for the adolescents on Blackstone Street and Helen Vendler’s description of “We Real Cool” as a “judgmental monologue” that “barely conceals its adult reproach of their behavior,” Brooks’s insistence on a soft “We” suggests sympathy for lives at an impasse. The “basic uncertainty” of the “We” reveals no bold swagger but instead an awareness of the plight that circumstances have landed them in and represents a brave assertion that though their lives are short they are somebody too. The poem is an elegy for thousands of young black men whose growth has been stifled by prejudice and its resulting poverty and social confusion.
Placing the “We” at the end of the end-stopped lines results in a gaping hole at the end of the last line, a visual emphasis on the truth of how they “Die soon” and nothing follows. That is all for these truncated lives. The sound effects are conventional alliteration and rhyme. One critic has suggested that “Jazz June” includes a sexual image and that “Die” carries an old Renaissance metaphor for a sexual climax, but this interpretation may strike some readers as strained and out of place.
Bibliography (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
Brooks, Gwendolyn. Report from Part One. Detroit: Broadside Press, 1972.
Bryant, Jacqueline, ed. Gwendolyn Brooks’ “Maud Martha”: A Critical Collection. Chicago: Third World Press, 2002.
Kent, George E. A Life of Gwendolyn Brooks. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1990.
Lanker, Brian. I Dream a World: Portraits of Black Women Who Changed America. New York: Stewart, Tabori & Chang, 1989.
Madhubuti, Haki R., ed. Say That the River Turns: The Impact of Gwendolyn Brooks. Chicago: Third World Press, 1987.
Melhem, D. H. Gwendolyn Brooks: Poetry and the Heroic Voice. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1987.
Mootry, Maria K., and Gary Smith, eds. A Life Distilled: Gwendolyn Brooks, Her Poetry and Fiction. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1987.
Washington, Mary Helen. “Plain, Black, and Decently Wild: The Heroic Possibilities of Maud Martha.” In The Voyage In: Fictions of Female Development, edited by Elizabeth Abel, Marianne Hirsch, and Elizabeth Langland. Hanover, N.H.: University Press of New England, 1983.
Wright, Stephen Caldwell, ed. On Gwendolyn Brooks: Reliant Conversation. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1996.