"I who have gone the gamut from an almost angry rejection of my dark skin by some of my brainwashed brothers and sisters to a surprised queenhood in the new Black sun am qualified to enter at least the kindergarten of new consciousness now... I have hopes for myself."
Listen up. Black History Month is drawing to a close. The daddy has written about political leaders, musicians, novelists and playwrights. But he has yet to acknowledge or praise a poet. And how could the daddy close Black History Month without giving props to Gwendolyn Brooks, one of the greatest poets of the 20th century?
They say the Creator acts in mysterious ways. But there was nothing mysterious about the Creator giving Brooks to us. The Creator gave us a transplant from Topeka, Kansas, a graduate from Wilson Junior College in 1936, and a gifted writer who made the southside of Chicago her home and who settled in our hearts to stay.
And she was gifted alright. Her
And she was gifted alright. Herfirst book, “
After getting that Pulitzer, she wrote books for people of all ages: Maude Martha (1953), The Bean Eaters (1960), In the Mecca (1968), Riot (1969) and Jump Bad (1971), that anthology. And for such quality writing, she became the poet laureate of
Walt Whitman talked about this need for a distinctly new literature. In the preface to “Leaves of Grass,” he wrote: “The American poets are to enclose old and new for
Speaking of African Americans, the great poet William Carlos Williams wrote: “The one thing that never seems to occur to anybody is that the Negroes have a quality which they have brought to America…Poised against the Mayflower is the slave ship-manned by the Yankees and Englishmen-bringing another race to try upon the New World…There is a solidity, a racial irreducible minimum, which gives them poise in a world where they have no authority.”
Brooks usedthat poise, that discipline, in her writing. She used the craft of poetry to shine a light on a distinct people, a “nation within nations,” to get us to get see African Americans, and extension, America more clearly. For example, in “Children of the Poor,” she put a cup on the side of a wall and hear a mother ask:
Who are adjudged the leastwise of the land,
Who are my sweetest lepers, who demand
No velvet and no Velvety velour;
But who have begged me for a brisk contour…
But I lack access to my proper stone
And plentitude or plan shall not suffice
And not grief nor love shall be enough alone
To ratify my little halves who bear
Across an autumn freezing every where.
Left school. We
Strike straight. We
Thin gin. We
He had the hawk-man’s eye.
We gasped. We saw the maleness.
The maleness raking and making guttural the air
And pushing us to walls.
And in a soft and fundamental hour
A sorcery devout and vertical
Beguiled the world.
Who was a key.
Thank you for bringing Sistah Gwendolyn into this world.
Thank you for placing her in our nation, our community, our
Thank you for ushering this gentle genius, this truthseeker, to create, to
solidify a distinctly American literature, to adapt traditional forms of poetry to a sun people's struggle for liberation and freedom in a cold and distant land.
Thank you for sending us a writer who made causal rhymes sing like Aretha Franklin at a black church in Detroit on Sunday, who gave us a star each time she put pen to paper.
Thank you for bringing us Gwendolyn Brooks, a poet who made words open their eyes, dance and sing.