Gwendolyn Brooks

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 How does Gwendolyn Brooks incorporate social issues in her writing? The postwar era was initially a period in which life, at least on the surface, seemed placid. By the end of the 1950s and into the 1960s, several undercurrents that were stirring in the previous decade began emerging into the mainstream discussions of America. These included race issues, the questioning of government, and emerging feminism.

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In 1950,Gwendolyn Brooks, who lived most of her life in Chicago, Illinois, was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in part because of her social concerns.  Brooks herself said that she attempted to "feature people and their concerns--their troubles as well as their joys." It is interesting how Ms. Brooks employs various forms for her poems. While her sonnets have a tightly controlled structure and rhyme scheme, other poems are in free verse, which allows for variations in line length and rhythm, a form more appropriate for the subjects of these poems.  Likewise, her rhyming is at times exact, at times partial in order to convey meaning.  

"The Sonnet Ballad" is a poem that exemplifies Brooks portrayal of people's troubles.  In this sonnet, a young woman is faced with aloneness and the worry of losing her man to war. It is with a bitter tone that this young woman bemoans her lover's having gone off to war and courted death rather than her:

He won't be coming back here any more...

I knew...

That my sweet love would have to be untrue. would have to court

Coquettish death, who impudent and strange

Possessive arms and beauty [of a sort]

Can make a hard man hesitate--and change.

"We Real Cool"is a highly ironic poem that criticizes the boasting attitude of the juvenile delinquents in her urban area. This poem specifically alludes to the "Blackstone Rangers," a gang from Blackstone Street in the inner city of Chicago. In this short verse, Brooks points to the social problems of the inner city; although there is a criticism of the boys' behavior, Brooks also exhibits sympathy with her soft use of "We." Of note, also, is how the rhyme of this poem emphasizes the character of the speakers.

We real cool. We

Left school. We

Lurk late.  We

Strike straight. We

Sing sin.  We

Thin gin.  We

Jazz June.  We

Die soon.

"Garbageman: The Man with the Orderly Mind" is another of Brooks' poem that points to the frustration and plight of blacks who strove to achieve in the 1950s and 1960s, but were not afforded opportunities:

What do you think of us in fuzzy endeavor, you whose directions are

sterling, whose lunge is straight?

Can you make a reason, how can you pardon us who memorize the rules and never score?

Who memorize the rules from your own text but never quite transfer them to the game,

Who never quite receive the whistling ball, who gawk, begin to absorb the crowd's own roar.

These poems, along with her many others, display Brooks's poetic talents and her sensitivity to social issues of the heart and of her time


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