This short poem, which consists of twenty four words only, was written by Gwendolyn Brooks, a prominent poet from Chicago. In 1950, she became the first African-American woman to win the Pulitzer Prize. “We Real Cool” was published in one of her most famous collections “The Bean Eaters” in 1960.
This poem tells a story of seven young guys playing pool during school hours. Ms. Brooks was once walking the streets of her city and caught a glimpse of a bunch of guys, playing pool in the pool hall. They seemed too young to be there. Obviously, they cut school to come play, and Gwendolyn was mesmerized by the combination of their insecurity and boldness. By coming there on a school day, they wanted to prove to others, or to themselves that they were really cool. Gwendolyn Brooks decided to describe this event in a poem, which became her most famous one.
“We Real Cool” is a vivid example of what can be done with a few simple and straightforward words. She managed to describe the whole life experience of seven teenagers. This poem became famous, not because of its subject, which is rather trivial, but because of how it sounds. Brooks gave preference to form and sound over content. With her poem, she recreated the atmosphere of a pool house, and it is rather easy for the reader to imagine a dimly lit pool hall crowded with players.
Chicago, the city where Gwendolyn Brooks spent most of her life, also plays a role in the poem. Firstly, it is considered to be the capital of blues, and secondly, it played an essential role in the rise of jazz music. The poem is imbued with jazz motifs and rhythms which create a percussive effect. The author uses alliteration (“Jazz June”, “Lark Late”, “Sing Sin”), which also adds up to the musicality of the poem.
Although the poem is written from the boys’ point of view, the lines we read are actually the thoughts of an observer who imagines what these boys might be feeling. So the speaker thinks that these young fellows often cut school to come and play adult games. They also drink gin, stay out late, believe that they know a thing or two about jazz. The consequence of such lifestyle may lead to a short life and the speaker sums up the poem with an assumption that the boys will die soon. The speaker expresses concern; however her tone is not judgmental or harsh. She is just curious what might be inside these young heads and what may the future have in store for them.