Writing 101 – Assignment #12: Critique a Piece of Work – “We Real Cool”

Today I will be critiquing Gwendolyn Brooks’ poem “We Real Cool” for today’s Blogging U assignment:

We real cool. We
Left school. We
Lurk late. We
Strike straight. We
Sing sin. We
Thin gin. We
Jazz June. We
Die soon.

gwendolyn-brooks

Gwendolyn Brooks is the renowned poet from Chicago that we have grown to love. In her own words, Brooks explains her inspiration behind this poem, which began while walking passed a pool hall in a Chicago neighborhood. She saw there a group of young men and pondered to herself how they felt about themselves. “I wrote [‘We Real Cool’] because I was passing by a pool hall in my community one afternoon during school time, and I saw, therein, a little bunch of boys – I say here in this poem, seven – and they were shooting pool. But instead of asking myself, ‘Why aren’t they in school?’ I asked myself, ‘I wonder how they feel about themselves?” Gwendolyn Brooks

I think when people read this poem they are put in the mind that these boys are too cool for school and when I first read it, years ago, I have to say I summed it up to pretty much mean that. Here are a group of young men who would rather partake in other activities rather than an education and as a result they die living the life they have chosen. However, with maturity came a different understanding of this poem.

“We Real Cool” is a poem that speaks from the point of view of these seven young men and it is why Brooks recites it the way that she does. The “We” is to carry lightness. Not so much to be pronounced harshly, but it is a slang that is carried in a  kind of whisper and you’ll hear this if you’ve ever heard Brooks recite it. So it is indication that this is not Gwendolyn Brooks who speaks, but it is the young men speaking and they are expressing a feeling about themselves that has been brought on due their interaction with a certain establishment.

“We
Jazz June.”

June is a symbol of an establishment. Typically, Americans adore June as a month. It is the time of summer; a time where school ends and the sun is out, and children play. June is in short a fun time. A time where people are married, and children have birthday parties. Traditionally, people cannot wait for June to come because it represents that transition into the summer months where things are happy and vibrant and lively and fun. For these young men however they “Jazz June” meaning they do not like it. They are not looking forward to June but they “Jazz” June. Jazz is a slang word meaning that the young men are willing to do anything that would annoy June; anything that would rebel against June. And so June is a symbol for an establishment. It is to say that these young men feel left out of it. They do not feel part of the system and so they leave school, they stay out late, they sin (which is not so much a transgression of biblical law in this sense but more so a transgression of the laws of the land. It is a symbol of their rebellion) and they do anything in general that will contradict June.

“We
Die soon.”

The final line, “We die soon” is a result of the life that they live. Not so much how fast living leads to death (which it does) but more deeply it is the treatment of their lives by the institutions in which they are rebelling against itself. Because they are locked out of it, their lives are not as valid, valued, or cherished and so eventually they die. The young men are expressing, in this poem, their low self-esteem and low self-worth inside of the communities in which they live.

In an interview, Brooks discussed an experience she had at a University where she’d done some reading. She spoke concerning a young black woman who stood up and said, “Why do you keep talking about blackness? We all know that the time for that is over. We are now merely American’s”. Brooks’s response, in brief, was that she’d like for blacks to be proud of where they come from.”

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They say that youth is wasted on the young; that their minds have not fully developed into the capacity to appreciate certain things, particularly a sense of pride in heritage and identity. As I listened to that interview about the young woman I think back to this poem. What strikes me as important to note in regard to “We Real Cool” is its focus on manhood, or rather boyhood. The experience of a black boy in America is different than that of a black girl. And this is a fact that is often gone under the radar. We talk a lot about black women, particularly in regard to a focus on feminism and gender identity and double discrimination far as being both black and woman is concerned. I think this is in many ways a trap because it can easily develop into hatred for our men and if not hatred, blindness to the struggles that they endure and their discrimination’s as well as our own. I think we spend a lot of time focusing on doing it ourselves that we miss the purpose. The purpose being that the strength of black family life is directly tied into the respect and honor that we either have or don’t have for black men as black women. Gwendolyn said it best, “If we don’t pull together then we won’t be here to pull at all.”

I say this to say that there’s a lot of focus on black women and not so much black men. It is not to say that the black experience in America is limited to gender, of course we know that we have all experienced psychological trauma especially the black woman. But we do have to admit that there is not as much attention toward the same kind of trauma exposed to black men. It is a fact that to be a black man is quite different in many ways than to be a black woman. One of these ways is a black man’s treatment in America by its varying institutions be that employment, or simply his struggle to lead his own family. Being unlawfully pulled over by the police is another example, even the calculation of prison beds against the reading scores of black males in the public schools. And so this poem is a reminder, at least to me that black men in America are, in the words of Toni Morrison, criminalized more than any other man or woman for that matter in America, and they are in constant dread for their lives, be that spiritual or physical.

We real cool. We
Left school. We
Lurk late. We
Strike straight. We
Sing sin. We
Thin gin. We
Jazz June. We
Die soon.

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12 thoughts on “Writing 101 – Assignment #12: Critique a Piece of Work – “We Real Cool”

  1. What I see here is a bunch of kids,who are trying to make themselves believe they are cool, because they left school. At heart I don’t think this is what they believe, unless they are unaware school is somewhere they get education to do better in life. The rhyming is good,but the outcome is not. 🙂 😦

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I liked the poem when I read it in the email. Took a while to get back to read your analysis, but closing at the poem again; Bam! Your anaylsis nailed it. I also Googled Gwendolyn Brooks. A Pulitzer Prize in 1950 with over 20 books in circulation now. Wow.

    Liked by 1 person

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