Wednesday, March 21, 2012

The Idea of Escape in 3 Poems by Gwendolyn Brooks

[Still building ideas concerning escapology, spurred by Allison Funk's series of escape artist poems.]

It's clear that the art and dream of escape is central to three of Gwendolyn Brooks's most canonical poems, "We Real Cool," "a song in the front yard," and "kitchenette building." In "We Real Cool," the speakers have "left school," and it's that move--leaving school--that makes them seem especially like bad boys, right? That is, lurking late, singing sin, and thinning gin become more pronounced if done by boys who have escaped from school.

In "a song in the front yard," the young girl speaker yearns "to go in the back yard now / And maybe down the alley,/ To where the charity children play. / I want a good time today." Rather than stay in the yard where the good girls play, she would "like to be a bad woman" and "strut down the streets with paint on my face." The poem can be read as the ruminations of a young girl figuring out how to escape into womanhood.
"kitchenette building" is really fascinating when read for its escapist qualities. The speaker resides in small, cramped living quarters and wonders "could a dream" flourish in such constraining conditions with "yesterday’s garbage ripening in the hall." But circumstances do not allow the speaker  to dwell on the thought, "not for a minute!" because the line at the public bathroom demands full immediate attention.

Similar to Allison Funk's escape artist poems, the gender of the speaker in "kitchenette building" is not definite, prompting readers to consider the poem from more than one perspective.  Or better, the poems invite multiple readings where we could imagine the speaker as a woman or man. 

It stands out in my mind that reading Brooks's three poems with an eye toward escape gave me new ways of thinking about pieces that I've been reading for years now.  

A Notebook on Escape Artists

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