05 October 2006

Gwendolyn Brooks

This quote from Danielle Chapman's essay about Gwendolyn Brooks in the October, 2006 issue of Poetry:

The most striking difference from the early work is not the politics, but how simultaneously personal and public Brooks's work became. She was writing poems that were meant to be heard, felt, and loved immediately. Often it feels as if the self—that vain, pandering child-star that lives inside every poet, whom Brooks admirably repressed for most of her career—has risen up with a vengeance, demanding to be heard and adored. Too often these poems are padded with the applause-ready line; too often they wallow in sentimentality; too often they sound like Keziah's daughter—a woman who'd once called herself "impossibly prim"—basking in the admiration of cats cooler than she. To hear a poet as temperamentally prone to rigor and precision as Brooks adopting the hip languor used by Haki Madhubuti and Sonia Sanchez screams mid-life crisis.

In human terms, Brooks's sudden abandon, her ability to love her community and to fight for it, feels like a triumph. No one should begrudge her the affection and popularity she enjoyed late in life, and no one should dismiss the effect of her activism on real-life events. Yet there was a trade-off: Brooks abandoned her discipline in order to be beloved and successful; as a result, very little of that love or success found its way into her own distinctive idiom. One can't help but rue the portraits of fiery clarity that Brooks might have created if she'd expressed her newly radicalized beliefs in the clear, conversational form that she'd spent her whole life mastering.

These paragraphs disturb me.

Is the self by definition a vain, pandering child-star that lives inside every poet? Must a poet repress that self in order to write good poetry?

Are Madhubuti and Sanchez to be dismissed so lightly?

Did Brooks change her poetry in order to be beloved and successful or because she changed politically and artistically? Does Chapman believe that Brooks's distinctive idiom should have stalled instead of changing as Brooks changed?


  1. I am also disturbed by this. People change a lot in life; we go through phases.

    Does it mean because Brooks changed that she did it to become popular? This writer makes quite an assumption. It is very rare for a person to continue down one path an entire lifetime. We go through shifts and changes, and that is how we grow.

    By the way, I love Gwendolyn Brooks, so I might be partial, but her poetry speaks to me, and for me that defines great poetry.

    Thanks for putting my poetry blog among your links Carol :-)

  2. I have a deep aversion to arbiters of good taste.

  3. thank you so much for this Gwendolyn Brooks moment. she is among the greatest for me. the year 2000 was the year some of us started to forget her power ... and tried to box her "change."