I’ve recently made a blog post about the significance of the poem “The Boy Died in My Alley” by Gwendolyn Brooks, but her work is too amazing to pass up the opportunity to write about one more.
Her poem “We Real Cool” is perhaps one of her more noted poem, with its stylistic elements and many interpretations.
I fell in love with the poem because it was something that kept me guessing. At one point I would think I had it figured out and could justify why and how I saw the “We” in the poem, however, new and different ideas would constantly be sent into my brain as I was going through my everyday life. Who is “We?”
We Real Cool ~ Gwendolyn Brooks
THE POOL PLAYERS.
SEVEN AT THE GOLDEN SHOVEL.
We real cool. We
Left school. We
Lurk late. We
Strike straight. We
Sing sin. We
Thin gin. We
Jazz June. We
From reading this poem, I interpret it as being written as if we are the speaker looking in on seven kids in a pool house. Brooks dramatically creates the scene of this poem within her first two lines, which seem to be stage directions, which also work to foreshadow the rest of the poem: “The Pool Players, / Seven at the Golden Shovel.”
In the game of pool or gambling as a whole, the number seven is considered lucky, being in coincidence with there being seven kids. The kids in the pool house are young, still young enough to be in school, this is shown through the word “golden.” The word shovel also foreshadows the ending of the poem that says “We / Jazz June. We / Die soon” being related to one’s death and burial.
I wondered why Brooks wanted to end her poem with the words “We / Die soon.” At first I thought it as a way for her to sum up the lives of the kids, as if she believed that the kids were doing risky behavior that lead to their premature death. But over time I began to feel that Brooks wrote “We / Die soon” as a way to share the kids idea that they shouldn’t be stuck in a school, learning something that they didn’t see as useful to them, and instead wanted to enjoy the outside world and wanted to have a different experience.
Throughout the poem Brooks break up the lines with the Pronoun “we”. This was done to allow readers to think about the next assumption about the kids through the speaker. I saw each stanza and line as a way for the readers to interpret their own ideas about what these kids are doing. I came across an interview of Gwendolyn Brooks where she spoke on how she was inspired to write this poem. Within the interview she mentioned how people began to interpret this poem differently. I saw lines 8-9 “We / Jazz June” to simply be about a group of kids enjoying Jazz music and the weather of that month, however, others saw those lines to be about sex. Jazz meaning something sexual, and June being a female’s name. Brooks didn’t say whether one was correct over another and instead left it open. Allowing readers to make their own assumptions about the kids as if we are the speaker encountering their actions.
So what else could the pronoun “We” be alluding to? Could “We” be more than just the seven kids at the pool house? Who are these masked humans without any names or reference? As readers we can only interpret what we feel to be correct. I had one of my roommates read this poem and she said that it was like the “We’s” in the poem are people growing up within a gang. The beginning of the poem “We real cool. We/ Left school” is the beginning of their lives in the gang, which then moves towards their death at the end of the poem from gang violence.
In the end, poems and other art are for us to interpret. How can we say that one idea about a poem is correct over the other? Sometimes even the artist is unsure of how they want to interpret the meaning of their work. Gwendolyn Brooks may have let the readers decide the “We” in the poem because she wanted us to be the speaker. What assumptions we make is up to us and how we are able to connect the words, lines, and stanzas, with a deeper and more meaningful idea.
Cover Image: http://blackpoemusic.tumblr.com/post/52406432130/we-real-cool-we-left-school-we-lurk-late-we