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We Real Cool

June 24, 2010

Gwendolyn Brooks

Pulitzer Prize winning writer, Gwendolyn Brooks, is among the several authors who incorporate African American English in their literature. Arguably, her most well-known poem, “We Real Cool,” has an irresistible musicality that once heard performed, cannot be read any other way. Try reading the poem first before listening to the audio recording to get the full impact.

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.

Although relatively short, the piece contains African American English features such as zero copula, or absence of a form of the verb to be as in “We Ø real cool.” There is also absence of the adverbial -ly on really, which appears as real.

The tonal semantics of the piece are also reflective of African American English. The repetition of the word “we” with every sentence, coupled with the rhyming of the final words in the sentences within each couplet were carefully chosen for their sound effects. Both techniques are features of African American English speech, as is the intonational contouring that made this poem famous.

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. Michelle permalink
    July 6, 2010 9:56 pm

    Amazing poem! I remember reading this poem years ago in a literature class and not really understanding it. Our professor never made any mention of the unique features of African American English, nor did she read the poem aloud so we could hear the richness of the language. Now that I’m taking a class about African American English and have explored this website more, I can now appreciate the language of the poem, particularly after hearing it read aloud. Keep up the great work on your website!

  2. Caitlyn Levan permalink
    April 28, 2011 10:12 pm

    I found this poem to be a really creative use of language and I especially liked her use of “we” at the end of every line. The use of “we”, in additional to the linguistic features of AAE described above, really point to a sense of community among AAE speakers that we sometimes may not recognize. I think that this poem is great in that it pulls together AAE features and literally defines the fact that yes, an AAE speaking community does exist. Those who may think that AAE and its features are just slang and fail to recognize AAE as a dialect or even a language, are overlooking some critical connections Brooks makes. The poem exemplifies that fact that there is a strong sense of community among speakers of the AAE dialect and I think that these connections between the language and its speakers are at the emotional root of the poem. The fact that speakers of AAE can be drawn together emotionally through language (as with poetry in this case), shows that AAE is no different from any other language, just as we all have an emotional soft spot for our own mother tongues.

  3. October 4, 2011 7:54 am

    What cultural writing

  4. Aziza Barnes permalink
    November 26, 2013 5:00 pm

    I adore this poem. It harkens back to an era where to speak the way you (a Black American in America) spoke, particularly in Academia, was totally unheard of. Though this is a poem, and therefore art before it is academic, Brooks’ putting this scene of Black American pool players in print is an incredibly empowering act. I don’t, however, think the use of “we” is signifying any strengths in the Black American community. I think the “we” and the repetition of “we” was to signify only the pool players and perhaps how this group of young men are in every generation of Black America, since “emancipation.” The “we” is a coding, a telling and a foreboding one at that. This is by no means an uplifting poem in terms of content. It is no coincidence the poem ends with, “we die soon,” which is grammatically incorrect to a purpose: the “we” is forever dying soon.

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