Gwendolyn Brooks--American

Gwendolyn Brooks


Though born in Topeka, Kansas in 1917, Gwendolyn Brooks has always been associated with her adopted city, Chicago, Illinois.  Brooks moved to Chicago early in life.  She attended mostly white schools, went to Woodrow Wilson City College, and became enamored with poetry.  As an adolescent she met Langston Hughes who encouraged her to write poetry.  A Street in Bronzeville, her first collection of poems, published in 1945 was positively received.  Her second collection, Annie Allen, received the 1950 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry.  Brooks was the first African American poet to win the prize.  Brooks has been a college instructor, a recognized humanitarian, and poet laureate of Illinois, a position she was named to after the death of Carl Sandburg in 1968, and held until her death in 2000.


the sonnet-ballad

Oh mother, mother, where is happiness?

They took my lover's tallness off to war,

Left me lamenting. Now I cannot guess

What I can use an empty heart-cup for.

He won't be coming back here any more.

Some day the war will end, but, oh, I knew

When he went walking grandly out that door

That my sweet love would have to be untrue.

Would have to be untrue.  Would have to court

Coquettish death, whose impudent and strange

Possessive arms and beauty (of a sort)

Can make a hard man hesitate--and change.

And he will be the one to stammer, "Yes."

Oh mother, mother, where is happiness?

Gay Chaps at the Bar
...and guys I knew in the States, young officers, return from the front crying and trembling. 
Gay chaps at the bar in Los Angeles, Chicago, New York...
                                                                            --Lt. William Couch in the South Pacific 
We knew how to order. Just the dash
Necessary. The length of gaiety in good taste.
Whether the raillery should be slightly iced
And given green, or served up hot and lush.
And we knew beautifully how to give to women
The summer spread, the tropics of our love.
When to persist, or hold a hunger off.
Knew white speech. How to make a look an omen.
But nothing ever taught us to be islands.
And smart, athletic language for this hour
Was not in the curriculum. No stout
Lesson showed how to chat with death. We brought
No brass fortissimo, among our talents,
To holler down the lions in this air.