Hortense J. Spillers

Hortense J. Spillers: On "We Real Cool"

"We Real Cool," illustrates the wealth of implication that the poet can achieve in a very spare poem: . . .

The simplicity of the poem is stark to the point of elaborateness. Less than lean, it is virtually coded. Made up entirely of monosyllables and end-stops, the poem is no non-sense at all. Gathered in eight units of three-beat lines, it does not necessarily invite inflection, but its persistent bump on "we" suggests waltz time to my ear. If the reader chooses to render the poem that way, she runs out of breath, or trips her tongue, but it seems that such "breathlessness" is exactly required of dudes hastening toward their death. Deliberately subverting the romance of sociological pathos, Brooks presents the pool players--"seven in the golden shovel"--in their own words and time. They make no excuse for themselves and apparently invite no one else to do so. The poem is their situation as they see it. In eight (could be nonstop) lines, here is their total destiny. Perhaps comic geniuses, they could well drink to this poem, making it a drinking/revelry song.

From "Gwendolyn the Terrible: Propositions on Eleven Poems" in A Life Distilled: Gwendolyn Brooks, Her Poetry and Fiction. Ed. Maria K. Mootry and Gary Smith. Copyright © 1987 by the Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois.