Selected Poems Analysis
by Gwendolyn Brooks

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Selected Poems Analysis

(Masterpieces of Women's Literature)

Brooks’s poems deal with the people and experiences of the streets of a black area she called Bronzeville. Therefore, it is natural that she used the words that such people would use on the street, although she did set them in a context of regular meters. Brooks did not use free verse very often in her poems; meter and rhyme seem to be necessary to create the hypnotic spell that many of her poems have. In such long poems as “The Sundays of Satin-Legs Smith” and “The Anniad,” the meter is insistent and takes on the aspects of a chant. This hypnotic effect is reinforced by her use of couplets and short poetic lines. Brooks also used such traditional literary genres as the elegy and the mock-heroic as well as such technical devices as the couplet, rhyme royal, elegy and various types of sonnet. These traditional aspects of poetic technique are, however, brought together with folk elements such as black speech patterns and jazz and blues rhythms as well as ballads. Both traditional and folk elements combine to create a compelling social vision.

The speakers and situations in Brooks’s poems are primarily African American. She wished, above all, to show the everyday lives and struggles of black people rather than present ideals that are distant from or foreign to their experience. She also attempted to portray the largest range of experience possible. This can be seen most fully in longer poems such as “The Sundays of Satin-Legs Smith” and “The Anniad,” which deal with the ordinary lives of representative figures. Annie’s life moves from her early years to middle age, and a number of later poems deal with the problems of old age.

The portrayal of women in this society is central to Brooks’s rendition of African American society. They are the ones who remain while the men go off to war or seek someone younger or more attractive. Their endurance and resilience in the midst of oppression and limitations are a persistent theme throughout the poems.

Brooks was consistently antiwar and, for the most part, antiheroic. “Gay Chaps at the Bar” shows most clearly the failure of wartime to bring people from different races together, even if they are fighting for the same cause. The heroic is not a realizable stance in Brooks’s world of immediate necessities. To survive in a world of prejudice and hatred is the best one can hope for. “Of De Witt Williams on His Way to Lincoln Cemetery” contains a good example of the antiheroic in its refrain: “He was nothing but a/ Plain black boy.” His world is the pool hall, the dance hall, and Forty-seventh Street. He lived fully in a world that had no place for heroism but did enable him to find joy.

Brooks counterpoints the lives of...

(The entire section is 702 words.)