"We Real Cool" by Gwendolyn Brooks (1960)

We Real Cool

We real cool. We
Left school. We

Lurk late. We
Strike straight. We

Sing sin. We
Thin gin. We

Jazz June. We
Die soon.

I can include “We Real Cool,” Gwendolyn Brooks’ poem that has become a staple in American poetry anthologies, because it’s only 24 little words divided into eight short lines. But with those two dozen words, Brooks manages to paint a portrait of these seven pool players at The Golden Shovel.

They can only express their identities as inextricably entwined with one another’s, and yet Brooks’ placement of the ‘we’s at the ends of the lines suggests that they struggle with that group identity. Brooks has said that she intends for the ‘we’s to be read very softly, emphasizing the things they do that make them “real cool.” These boys — the reader knows they’re boys even though Brooks doesn’t specify — these boys don’t quite understand their place in these activities, but the last line implies that they do understand their consequences. And yet knowing the ultimate consequence of their actions does not seem to deter them from pursuing these things. Being cool seems more important to them than living a long life.

Brooks associates this construction of “real cool” with a particular, namely the African-American, community with her reference to “Jazz June.” The only statement that the boys make with confidence is that they are “real cool” with the subsequent statements defining how they know they are cool. And with that finality of “D[ying] Soon,” the poem comes across as critical of these boys’ lifestyles. But does Brooks put the blame for their grim fates on the boys for participating in this self-destructive construction of “cool” or perhaps on a community that fosters such a construction?


No Responses Yet to “"We Real Cool" by Gwendolyn Brooks (1960)”

  1. Leave a Comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: