The efficiency apartment described in “Kitchenette Building,” the first poem in A Street in Bronzeville, recalls the apartments in which Brooks and her husband lived prior to the early 1950’s, when they purchased a house. Bronzeville, so named by the Chicago Defender, was a black ghetto consisting of forty square blocks on the South Side of the city. With its cross-section of people and lifestyles, Bronzeville provided Brooks with a wealth of subject material.
Written in an irregular rhyme scheme that moves toward pentameter, “Kitchenette Building” bears stylistic traces of the work of T. S. Eliot, Ezra Pound, and John Donne, while its message is reminiscent of that in Henry David Thoreau’s Walden, Or, Life in the Woods (1854), which Brooks had read and admired. Discussing the need for simplicity, Thoreau states that “our life is frittered away by detail.” In a similar vein of thought, the narrator of the poem muses about whether dreams and aspirations can compete with the mundane details of life—onion fumes, fried potatoes, garbage rotting in the hall—especially in a cramped ghetto dwelling. She does not muse for long, however; another tenant has just vacated the communal bathroom, so she must scurry down the hall to use what is left of the hot water before someone else beats her to it. Practicality must supersede dreams.
The first line in “Kitchenette Building” suggests the wryness of Eliot:...
(The entire section is 484 words.)