personae

Gary Smith: On "We Real Cool"

Brooks's attitude toward the players remains ambivalent.  To be sure, she dramatizes the tragic pathos in their lives, but she also stresses their existential freedom in the poem's . . . meter, the epigraph that frames the poem, and the players' self-conscious word play. . . .

The often overlooked epigraph to the poem suggests Brooks's ambivalence toward the personae's lifestyle.  The number "seven," for example, ironically signifies their luck as pool players; while "golden" similarly implies a certain youthful arrogance.  However, "shovel" reminds the reader of death and burial.

Within the poem, the personae's self-conscious word play supports their self-definition.  The title . . . boasts of the reason why the personae left school. . . .  The remainder of the sentences . . . mock the value of education and celebrate the personae's street learning.  Finally, the alliterative pattern of their other spoken words, "Lurk late," "Strike straight," and "Sing sin," belies any possibility for mental growth.

The most suggestive sentence in the poem, however, is "We Jazz June."  Among its many meanings, the word "Jazz" connotes meaningless or empty talk and sexual intercourse.   If the latter meaning is applied to the poem, "June" becomes a female or perhaps the summer of life whom the personae routinely seduce or rape; "die" thus acquires a double Elizabethan meaning of sexual climax and brevity of existence.  Either connotation, obviously, works well within the players' self-appointed credo.   More importantly, the rich word play suggests Brooks's own ambivalence toward the players' lifestyle.  She dramatizes their existential choice of perilous defiance and nonconformity.

Smith, Gary.  "Brooks's 'We Real Cool.'"  Explicator 43.2 (Winter 1985): 49-50.