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20090323 Brooks and Roethke

Page history last edited by Allix 11 years, 10 months ago



With the end of World War II in 1945, America's economic prosperity and competition with the USSR led to an emphasis on patriotism and cultural homogeneity. America became increasingly suburbanized, which led to a shift in literature - writers attempted to represent America as a whole in their works; the entire experience of the American people. With the notion of the Great American Novel and the new American goal of conformity came the urge to represent the nation through poetry. However, poetry as a whole is less tied to this idea - there is no "Great American Poem."


Poet Laureate Gwendolyn Brooks (1917 - 2000) become the first African American to win the Pulitzer Prize for poetry. Like many writers of the Harlem Renaissance, Brooks represented the common experiences of African Americans. She published her first collection of poems, A Street in Brozeville, in 1945, which includes "Kitchenette Building," a poem that describes dreams as a responsibility - something to care and nurture. A later poem, "We Real Cool," 1960, utilizes the black dialects of Chicago.


Theodore Roethke (1905-1963), another Pulitzer Prize winner, is admired for his natural imagery, despite his frequent mental breakdowns. Rather than remaining secluded like many poets before him, Roethke was a part of a movement which brought successful poets to teach at universities. Many of his works focus on his life and experiences; he is a confessional poet. Roethke's The Lost Son, 1948, examines familial relationships. In one of his poems "The Weed Puller" (1948), Roethke attests that work in a garden is "an indignity," but the poet keeps himself alive by actively writing poems. In "Frau Bauman, Frau Schmidt, and Frau Schwartze," 1948, Roethke admits watching women is like poetry – women order and straighten plants as a poet does words.


[Word Count: 298]




"'Dream' makes a giddy sound, not strong / Like 'rent,' 'feeding a wife,' 'satisfying a man.'"

     ~ Brooks, "Kitchenette Burning," (lines 2-3)

     - The word "dream" is unfamiliar to the people living in bronzeville. There is no time and no payoff for keeping a frivolous dream. A dream is an obligation, and those living tough lives on this street find their other obligations more important, such as "rent, feeding a wife, satisfying a man." This poem suggests that dreams are linked to whiteness in that the writer suggests that these struggles described are specifically linked to being african american.

     - if dreams are white, and they take time and effort, why strive for them? African Americans see the hopelessness in dreaming, largely because of segregation practices.


"We/ Jazz June. We / Die soon."

     ~ Brooks, "We Real Cool," ( lines 6-8)

     - "We Real Cool" (1960) is Brooks' most famous poem. An excellent example of regionalism, the language in this work is representative of black dialect in chicago. The syncopation, alliteration, and internal rhyme give the poem a jazzy musical rhythm. This poem is representative of those who were different, who didn't follow the rules and norms of that society. The words "We Jazz June" is suggestive of sex.


"The indignity of it!--"

     ~ Roethke, "Weed Puller," (line 10) 

     - Weed Puller" is referring to the act of destroying "perverse life." Although weeds are harmful, they have a place, in the narrator's perspective. This could be suggestive of other social issues of the time, such as civil rights.



Key Terms:


G.I. Bill: provided college education for thousands of returning World War II veterans


Ideology: a belief system that governs how something works; the principle of belief is more important than the pragmatism that guides decision-making processes, similar to theory.


Baby Boomers: the sons and daughters of educated World War II veterans. These veterans were able to have stable families by the education they recieved from the G.I. Bill.


The Great American Novel: Hemingway was promulgator of this notion; he noted Twain's Huckleberry Finn as the first Great American Novel. The Great American Novel aims to capture essence and experience –- it is not just to write a war novel, but write the war novel. Some examples include: Melville's Moby Dick, F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby, and DeLillo's Underworld. There is no "Great American" poetry.


Confessional Poets: poets writing about themselves; a new direction poetry takes mid-20th century



Lecture Slides

Comments (8)

hrberma@... said

at 11:15 am on Mar 24, 2009

I added some summary on Roethke and edited some grammatical mistakes in the Brooks paragraph. I will add more later on key terms and passages. Anything else we need?

Allix said

at 12:15 pm on Mar 24, 2009

I got hte key terms down, did I forget any? Good summary!! I added bio dates to it. Someone might want to do a once-over with that and set the final word count.

I copied & pasted quotes I got from class -- someone tear them apart and leave the best three!

pdavis5@... said

at 3:08 pm on Mar 24, 2009

i wrote notes under a few of the quotes... if anyone wants to give their explanation of another one? I vote for "the indignity of it" in "the weed puller." That's an important one, for sure...

and thanks for finishing up/fixing the grammar in the first paragraphs. my internet died before i could check it ;)

also, i did some organizing of the quotes/explanations and what-not, but there are awkward spaces in the explanation of "kitchenette burning" and i can't get rid of them... i'm fairly tech challenged, so i thought someone might know how to fix it quickly.

Allix said

at 11:52 pm on Mar 24, 2009

I got the spaces of "kitchenette burning" out i think. can somoen go into one more quote and delete the others? I'll be back on in the morning to add anything we really need. !

Allix said

at 10:12 am on Mar 25, 2009

Hmmm... so I am going to take off the quotes that no one wrote on. I;ll leave one up without an explanation so maybe Apoorwa can write on it later?! It probably won't be in our grade, but it will def help the class out for the final.

Allix said

at 2:52 am on Mar 30, 2009

Hey guys. I rewrote the summary and one definition to help our classmates in studying purposes. Will someone jump in and edit the quotes? Prof. C's e-mail explains what critical stuff we left out...

Thanks! Allix

Brian Croxall said

at 11:14 pm on Apr 16, 2009

In your notes for this past Monday's class you cover a lot of the important points, but the notes as a whole do not feel especially polished. In the summary, for example, the sentences are rough. The last one in the paragraph about Brooks isn't even a complete sentence. Roethke's poem "Weed Puller" should be in quotation marks instead of italicized. You try to be complete when talking about the "Baby Boomers" in your definition by mentioning that these are the children of the veterans receiving the GI Bill, but the phrasing is confusing and seems to suggest that it is the Baby Boomers that use the GI bill.

More importantly, your summary suggests that the development of the Great American novel as a concept is the effect of surburbanization. Its actual causes should be attributed to the Cold War with Russia. There's an interest in doing things "the American way" in contradistinction to the Russian/communist way. And there is a desire to represent this American essence through literature as well as through consumerism.

Brian Croxall said

at 11:14 pm on Apr 16, 2009

In the passages, Brooks's poem is "kitchenette building," not "burning." What's more, the passage you quote doesn't have the lines about "white" and which are the focus of your analysis. With the lines that you quoted, I would have expected to see you talk about the different vowel and consonant sounds in the words. In "We Real Cool," you talk effectively about the syncopated rhythms of the poem, and you mention how the poem is reflective of those who don't follow society's norms. But you miss the chance to talk about the speakers' dying soon as either a recognition of mortality not lasting long or as an effect of how they've lived their lives. Finally, your passage from Roethke doesn't address the heart of the problem: he is indignant about his work because it places him in a slippery grave while the flowers are living above him. As I said in class, the flowers (which are linked to his father) are valued more than he is himself. Because, however, you talked about this poem in the summary, it might have been more effective for you to have taken a passage from “Frau Bauman, Frau Schmidt, and Frau Schwartze” to talk about the positives of the experience.

(FYI, it looks like some edits were made to the entry after I wrote the above paragraphs.)

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