Brooks, Gwendolyn (Vol. 1)

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Last Updated on May 19, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1040

Brooks, Gwendolyn 1917–

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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...

(The entire section contains 1040 words.)

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