We Real Cool

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This article is about the poem. For the book, see We Real Cool: Black Men and Masculinity.

"We Real Cool" is a poem written in 1959 by poet Gwendolyn Brooks and published in her 1960 book The Bean Eaters, her third collection of poetry.

It consists of four verses of two rhyming lines each. The final word in most lines is "we". The next line describes something that "we" do, such as play pool or drop out of school. Brooks has said that the "we"s are meant to be said softly, as though the protagonists in the poem are questioning the validity of their existence.[1] The poem has been featured on broadsides, and is widely studied in literature classes and re-printed in literature textbooks. It also contains references to the seven deadly sins.

The last lines of the poem, "We / Die soon," indicate the climax, which comes as a surprise to the boasts that have been made previously. It also suggests a moment of self-awareness about the choices that the players have made.

Origin[edit]

In an interview Brooks stated that her inspiration for the poem came from her walking in her community and passing a pool hall full of boys. When considering this she thought to herself “I wonder how they feel about themselves?” Instead of wondering about why they were not in school, Brooks captured this scene and turned it into the seven pool players at the Golden Shovel.[2]

Themes and meaning[edit]

The poem covers a multitude of themes despite its short length, some including rebellion and youth. The unique structure offers a subtitle at the beginning of the poem where Brooks writes, "The Pool Players / Seven at the Golden Shovel". This gives the poem its characters and setting. Many readers have also suggested the general song-like quality that the poem possesses when being read, in line with the jazz poetry tradition started by Langston Hughes.

The poem also covers the topic of mortality. In the last line it states that the seven pool players and narrator will "Die Soon", although the seven young pool players are prideful in their rebellion, they will eventually face mortality. This could also be an indicator into the time period with which the poem was written during the 1960s. Racial tensions were at a height during the decade with civil rights leaders pushing for de-segregation in the racist south. The mortality that Brooks addresses could be an indicator of the times that it was written in along with the fast life that the boys live in their enjoyment of skipping school, singing sin and drinking gin.

Brooks has also gone on the record of saying that the seven pool players in the poem are fighting the establishment with their rebellious actions. She states that the establishment is represented by the month of June. In the same interview Brooks explains how the poem has even been banned in some areas due to the use of the word "jazz" due to a perceived sexual nature. Some of have interpreted the usage of "jazz" to have a sexual reference. However, Brooks said that the interpretation was not her intention, instead she intended for it to represent music.[2]

In popular culture[edit]

The poem was printed in the booklet of Chicago Metalcore band, The Killing Tree's 2003 EP, We Sing Sin, whose title is a reference to the poem.

It is also referenced in the song of the same title, "We Real Cool," by the band Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds on their 2013 album, Push the Sky Away.

The band The Jazz June takes their name from this poem as well.

External links[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "An Interview with Gwendolyn Brooks" in Contemporary Literature 11:1 (Winter 1970). Available on-line: "On We Real Cool".
  2. ^ a b Robert Ricardo Reese (2013-11-01), Gwendolyn Brooks reads We Real Cool, retrieved 2016-10-31