Student Portal: “We Real Cool” by Gwendolyn Brooks

“We Real Cool”
by Gwendolyn Brooks
Gwendolyn Brooks (1917-2000) was an extremely influential and honored poet. She won the Pulitzer Prize in 1950 for Annie Allen, becoming the first Black writer to win the award. She went on to become the Poet Laureate of Illinois in 1968. Brooks has won numerous awards and has authored more than twenty books. In 1994, Brooks was named the Jefferson Lecturer by the National Endowment for the Humanities. The 1994 Furious Flower Conference was dedicated to Gwendolyn Brooks, taking its name from a line in one of her poems “The Sermon on the Warpland.” At the Furious Flower Gwendolyn Brooks Tribute, Brooks read, “We Real Cool,” describing seven young men that she saw skipping school at a pool hall. As you watch the video, think about Brooks’ enunciation as she reads the poem.

Gwendolyn Brooks reads “We Real Cool”

We Real Cool

    THE POOL PLAYERS. 
    SEVEN AT THE GOLDEN SHOVEL.

We real cool. We
Left school. We

Lurk late. We
Strike straight. We

Sing sin. We
Thin gin. We

Jazz June. We
Die soon.

Reader Response Questions

1. What do you and your friends do for fun?

2. If you could skip school for a day, where would you go to hang out with your friends? What would you do?

3. If your teachers could leave school to find you, where would they go? Explain.

History and Culture

1. “We Real Cool” incorporates elements of jazz music. Jazz was most popular in the 1920s and 1930s, while this poem was written in 1959. Why do you think Brooks used jazz instead of following the musical style of the day? What does this say about influences on poetry? Explain.

2. In a conversation with B. Denise Hawkins, Brooks, when talking about her poems, said that “They need to know that I am interested in what goes on in the streets, that my own home on 74th and Evans was invaded…” Are there situations or events that you have observed in your community that you would want to write about? Explain.

Poet’s Craft and Structure

| ENJAMBMENT

1. Enjambment is the lack of punctuation at the end of a line, causing the lines to bleed together. In this poem, Brooks says, “We real cool. We / Left school,” and she continues this throughout the poem’s entirety. How does this enjambment affect the way you read the poem? Do you find yourself flowing into the next line or are you pausing? Explain how this affects your experience while reading the poem.

2. The enjambment of this poem is similar to the style of jazz improvisation. Read the poem out loud to yourself. How did you read it? Now listen to Gwendolyn Brooks read it. How does she read it? What words does she enunciate? How is this different from your reading? Explain.

| INTERNAL RHYME

1. Internal rhyme is a rhyme that happens in the middle of a line as opposed to the end. How does the placement of the rhymes in this poem affect your understanding? Why do you think Brooks chooses to rhyme in the middle as opposed to the end?

2. Brooks uses internal rhyme and she also uses alliteration (the repetitive consonant sounds at the beginning of words). How does figurative language including sound devices such as the rhythm and rhyme scheme support the subject, mood, theme, and appeal to the reader’s senses? Do you think the meaning would change if the rhyme and alliteration changed?

Reading and Writing Connections

1. In the style of “We Real Cool,” write an eight-line poem about what you and your friends do for fun. Title your poem.

OR

2. Take Brooks’ images and rework them into a one-page story. How would you imagine their story?