click over here (http://www.poets.org/viewmedia.php/prmMID/15433) to read this poem.
I’ve been having a problem lately finding poems. I have not been making time to read enough poems to discover ones I loved enough to memorize. So this month was passing and I still hadn’t chosen a poem. I remembered a very short poem–four to eight lines–that I loved as a teenager that was written by Gary Soto and called, I thought, “Oranges”. So that was going to be the short poem of the month. But when I finally got around to finding “Oranges,” I found that it was not the poem I thought it was. It was a good poem, but too long to cram in my memory in the few remaining days of the month. By chance, I recalled Gwendolyn Brooks’ poem. A-hah! That would be short enough to memorize for January and “Oranges” could be my February poem.
I have fond memories of this poem. For some reason, we spent a lot of time in my English classes during Junior High and High School reading about the Harlem Renaissance. I loved the poems we read so much that my junior year when I had to choose an author to study for the entire year, I chose Langston Hughes. I think the emphasis on the Harlem Renaissance was a way to gear our curriculum toward something beside the white guys. And I have to say, the disenfranchisement felt by this group of talented authors resonated with my adolescent self. While my white, middle-class upbringing wasn’t anywhere near disenfranchised, I felt–as I think many adolescents do–a kinship with these authors. Life wasn’t very fair for me, either, it seemed at the time.
This poem in particular sticks in my head because we watched a video which included Gwendolyn Brooks reading this poem. Until I watched that video I had been reading her poem thusly:
We real cool. Pause. Inhale. We left school. Pause. Inhale. We lurk late. Pause. Inhale. and so on.
When I heard Brooks read it, it changed from a good poem with a kicker of a last line to an awesome poem that sounded like a song. The transformation was such a surprise that I had one of those flash bulb memory moments and can picture perfectly the room where I was watching the video. I remember that I was not the only one surprised as there was a general gasp in the room and the teacher gave a satisfied, “Yep. Pretty cool, eh?” sort of comment.
You too can hear Gwendolyn Brooks read her poem, as well as deliver some commentary about how she would like people to know her for her other poems too, by going to the link above and clicking on the play button. I highly recommend it.
Next month, stay tuned for how I have found a way to read more poems on a daily basis.